President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama want their children to experience the virtues of hard work at minimum-wage pay.
“I think every kid needs to get a taste of what it’s like to do that real hard work,” Michelle Obama said in an interview with Parade magazine published Friday.
“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,” President Obama added. “But that’s what most folks go through every single day.”
The sage words from the Obamas come just days before the the White House hosts the Working Families Summit, which is set for Monday. They also come on the heels of a failed effort in the Senate to increase the minimum wage to $10.10, which the president supported. Obama signed an executive order in February that lifted the minimum wage for federal contractors to that amount.
The Parade interview offered insight into the Obamas’ work histories, which included low-paying jobs and times of financial fragility.
Before going to college, both the future president and first lady worked minimum-wage jobs. President Obama said his first jobs all paid minimum wage or close to it. He worked as an ice cream scooper at Baskin-Robbins, a painter and waiter at an assisted-living facility. When Michelle Obama was 16 and in her last year of high school, she worked at a bindery.
The Obamas have two daughters – Malia, who will be 16 next month, and Sasha, 13. The elder of the two girls is already dipping her toe in the working world. Malia Obama reportedly worked as a production assistant recently on the set of the new CBS sci-fi series “Extant.”
After graduating from college and in the early years of their marriage, the Obamas said money was tight. After Michelle Obama graduated from law school, she moved back in with her parents. Following his graduation, Barack Obama moved in with them. For a year the couple lived on the second floor of her family’s home on the south side of Chicago.
“We pinched pennies,” the president said.
President Obama recounted the strain the couple’s finances put on their young marriage.
“Look, we had Malia, and then three years later we have Sasha. At that point, our student loans are still more than our mortgage. Michelle’s working full time. I have three jobs,” he said. “There are stretches where I’ll be away for three days at a time. If the babysitter can’t make it, Michelle’s the one who’s got to scramble and figure it out.”
The first couple said their own experiences have helped inform their push for policies to aid working families, including bolstering access to paid family leave to help care for a child or sick parent.
Michelle Obama said she took her last job, pre-White House, because her boss allowed her to enjoy flexibility with her responsibilities as a mother.
“I didn’t have a babysitter, so I took Sasha right in there with me in her crib and her rocker,” she said.
President Obama said he hopes to use the Working Families Summit to highlight the importance of providing a livable wage for families, to raise the national discussion around these issues and foster dialogue between business leaders, lawmakers and ordinary citizens.
“If we can highlight these issues and sustain it over the next year, it’s still possible to see bold action out of Congress,” the president said. “Families just want to see progress. They don’t expect this to be solved right away.”