Obama's Weekly Address

WEEKLY ADDRESS: Bringing our Workplace Policies into the 21st Century

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Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
June 21, 2014

Hi, everybody. As President, my top priority is rebuilding an economy where everybody who works hard has the chance to get ahead.

Thats what Ill spend some time talking about on Monday, at the White House Summit on Working Families. Were bringing together business leaders and workers to talk about the challenges that working parents face every day, and how we can address them together.

Take paid family leave. Many jobs dont offer adequate leave to care for a new baby or an ailing parent, so workers cant afford to be there when their family needs them the most. Thats wrong. And it puts us way behind the times. Only three countries in the world report that they dont offer paid maternity leave. Three. And the United States is one of them. Its time to change that. A few states have acted on their own to give workers paid family leave, but this should be available to everyone, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for a family member in need.

Childcare is another challenge. Most working families I know cant afford thousands a year for childcare, but often thats what it costs. That leaves parents scrambling just to make sure their kids are safe while theyre at work C forget about giving them the high-quality early childhood education that helps kids succeed in life.

Then theres the issue of flexibility C the ability to take a few hours off for a parent-teacher conference or to work from home when your kid is sick. Most workers want it, but not enough of them have it. Whats more, it not only makes workers happier C studies show that flexibility can make workers more productive and reduce worker turnover and absenteeism. Thats good for business.

At a time when women make up about half of Americas workforce, outdated workplace policies that make it harder for mothers to work hold our entire economy back. But these arent just problems for women. Men also care about whos watching their kids. Theyre rearranging their schedules to make it to soccer games and school plays. Lots of sons help care for aging parents. And plenty of fathers would love to be home for their new babys first weeks in the world.

In fact, in a new study, nearly half of all parents C women and men C report that theyve said no to a job, not because they didnt want it, but because it would be too hard on their families. When that many talented, hard-working people are forced to choose between work and family, somethings wrong. Other countries are making it easier for people to have both. We should too, if we want American businesses to compete and win in the global economy.

Family leave. Childcare. Flexibility. These arent frills C theyre basic needs. They shouldnt be bonuses C they should be the bottom line.

The good news is, some businesses are embracing family-friendly policies, because they know its key to attracting and retaining talented employees. And Im going to keep highlighting the businesses that do. Because I take this personally. I take it personally as the son and grandson of some strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me. As the husband of a brilliant woman who struggled to balance work and raising our young ladies when my job often kept me away. And as the father of two beautiful girls, whom I want to be there for as much as I possibly can C and whom I hope will be able to have families and careers of their own one day.

We know from our history that our economy grows best from the middle-out; that our country does better when everybody participates; when everyones talents are put to use; when we all have a fair shot. Thats the America I believe in. Thats the America Ill keep fighting for every day. Thanks, and have a great weekend.