Today’s working families look a lot different from those of the past. For example, an increasing number of workers are finding it necessary to take care of both their children and their aging parents. Also, women are the primary or sole breadwinners in around 40 percent of today’s households, up from just 11 percent 50 years ago.
Typical workplace culture and policies have not adjusted to these modern realities, including the fact that in most households with children, both parents work outside the home. Instead, working families, and particularly working women, have struggled to conform to outdated standards and models or worse.
On April 11 at a Denver Regional Forum on Working Families, we heard perspectives from Denver-area workers, businesses, elected officials, academics and advocates on family-friendly workplace policies, including family and medical leave and paid leave. We also heard the moving personal stories of two Colorado women whose lives – and livelihoods – would have been in serious jeopardy if they not had access to family and medical leave.
Afterward, a number of employers who provide paid leave and sick days to their employees offered their insights surrounding the benefit to both the employee and the company. It was encouraging to hear about businesses and policymakers recognizing the importance of family leave and paid leave to the economic security of today’s families. However, family and paid leave are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Denver event was the first a series of regional forums on working families. This exciting event marked the start of a conversation about adapting workplaces to the needs and realities of today’s workforce. The regional forums are being held to inform a White House Summit on Working Families on June 23 in Washington, D.C.
Hosted jointly by the Center for American Progress, the Department of Labor, and the White House Council on Women and Girls, the June 23 summit will convene businesses, economists, labor leaders, legislators, advocates, the media and the public for a discussion on issues facing the entire spectrum of working families – from workers to corporate executives, from young parents to baby boomers caring for their own aging parents.
In her keynote address at the Denver forum, Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta highlighted a number of other issues that President Obama is committed to addressing through the Forums and the Summit. This includes measures that he has been urging Congress to act on, including “increasing the federal minimum wage, equal pay, paid family and sick leave, increasing nontraditional and STEM jobs for women, child care and early education.”
President Obama has already taken steps towards addressing the disparities in pay and opportunity, and leveling the playing field. From the establishment of the Equal Pay Task Force, to the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage, to two recent executive actions, the president has clearly demonstrated his commitment to helping women and families succeed.
I encourage you to visit the summit website, learn more about the issues and sign up for updates. You can also learn about how to attend one of our regional forums, nominate someone to attend the Washington, D.C., summit or host an event of your own, and tell us your personal story.
With your participation, we can help bring today’s families and workplaces progress into the 21st century together.
Latifa Lyles is the director of the department’s Women’s Bureau.