President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama will be hosting a Working Families summit on June 23rdin Washington, D.C., which will focus on the need for paid family leave, affordable child care, raising the minimum wage, and fair and equal salaries for women. To promote the summit, the First Couple spoke with Parade magazine about their past financial challenges and how they can relate to economically struggling Americans.
The President said that his first four jobs were “minimum wage, or close to it.” He has scooped ice cream, waited tables, and worked as a painter for fairly low pay. He reminisced on being a waiter, in which he served food to the elderly at an assisted living home. “It was a great job, although the folks there sometimes were cranky because they were on restricted diets. Mr. Smith would want more salt, and you’d say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Smith. You’re not allowed.’”
The First Lady experienced working hard to earn extra money as a teenager. “My last year in high school, I worked at a bindery, side by side with grown-ups who had been there their entire lives,” said Mrs. Obama. “Knowing that I, as a 16-year-old, was getting the same income and doing the same work… it gave me respect for those workers. But it also gave me an understanding that more is needed for folks to be able to cobble together a decent life on minimum wage.”
When the couple was newly married and graduated from law school, they lived in Michelle’s mother’s house for one year and drove a used car. “I bought it for $1,000, paid cash,” the President said of his first car. “So, we pinched pennies…[and] we scrapped together what savings we had.”
President Obama also acknowledged that some men who leave a mother to raise children on their own do so as the result of feeling financial strain. “When men don’t have work, when they don’t feel good about being able to support their families, then often they detach themselves,” explained President Obama. “The children then don’t have a male presence in the home. And the mother, no matter how heroic she is, now is on her own, which puts more strain on her.” He added that although men should “take responsibility” for their children, fathers also need an economy that enables them to secure a decent job.
The Obamas claimed that they want their daughters, Sasha and Malia, to experience the same challenges and rewards of a minimum-wage job. “I think every kid needs to get a taste of what it’s like to do that real hard work,” said Michelle. “We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair,” the President added. “But that’s what most folks go through every single day.”