June 24 2014
President Obama hosted a summit on working families yesterday in conjunction with the White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Obama-friendly Center for American Progress (CAP). The president is correct that there is a useful conversation to be had on the importance of families to our society. But this falls short of the conversation we need to have.
The president remarks were so jumbled at the Working Families Summit that you had to wonder if he is interested in finding useful solutions or scoring political points. He sounded more utopian than practical.
Parents who work full-time should earn enough to pay the bills and go to work every day knowing that their kids are in good hands. Workers who give their all should know that if they need some flexibility, they can have it -- because their employers understand that it's hard to be productive when you've got a sick kid at home or a childcare crisis. And talented, hard-working people should be able to say yes to a great new opportunity without worrying that their families will pay the price. Nearly half of all working parents surveyed say they've chosen to turn down a job not because they didn't want it, but because it would be too hard on their families. When that many members of our workforce are forced to choose between a job and their family, something's wrong.
The problem is that full-time work has become increasingly hard to find after five years of Mr. Obama’s policies. As Ben Casselman at Five-Thirty Eight notes, “part-time employment” is higher than the historical norm as “more than 7 million Americans are stuck in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time work.”
The president also championed raising the minimum wage, for example, though that alone would prevent many people who need to learn skills on the job from getting that entry level job that would be the first job on their way into the middle class.
The subject of daycare for working parents was addressed. Economist turned member of the Obama Council of Economic Advisers Betsey Stevenson said, “Are [my children] going to be safe? Is it going to be enriching for them? What am I going to do when the daycare calls me and says ‘Your kid has a 100-degree fever’...All those small problems actually aggregate up for a big impact on our economy.”
What they didn’t talk about, as far as I could tell from reports, is the cost of daycare and the onerous rules and licensing burdens that make daycare in some states more expensive than college. In other words, instead of holding meaty discussions of the issues that affect working families, the summit promoted an agenda.
Even Politico, hardly a bastian of conservatism, ran its story on the summit with this headline: “Barack Obama Summit Hits Democratic Talking Points.”