First lady Michelle Obama says everyone should have what she has: a chief of staff and a personal assistant.
Speaking Thursday in support of sick days with pay and flexible work schedules, Mrs. Obama said that, as challenging as her new life may sometimes seem, hers is a “very blessed situation, because I have what most families don’t have” — support from her mother and a staff.
“Everyone should have a chief of staff and a set of personal assistants,” she said at a meeting of Corporate Voices for Working Families, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to develop and promote policies to help working families.
Absent personal assistants for all, Mrs. Obama said workers should have paid sick days, schedules that give them time for their family responsibilities, such as picking up children or taking them or parents to doctors’ appointments, and quality child care on the job.
Also needed is paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or to deal with serious illness, she said.
“These types of policies can be the key to whether a family remains economically viable or slips into financial uncertainty,” she said.
Some 22 million working women don’t have one paid sick day, Mrs. Obama said, meaning they lose money anytime they have to skip work because of an ill child. Current law, the Family Medical Leave Act, provides unpaid leave for birth, adoption or serious illness.
President Barack Obama‘s wife talked openly during last year’s campaign for the White House about her feelings when she juggled work as a top administrator at a Chicago hospital with raising two young daughters.
The issue, balancing work and family, is one she wants to focus on as first lady.
Mrs. Obama told the meeting that growing up in Chicago her family, including her mother and brother, lived on her father’s salary from his job as a city worker. Her mother, who now lives with her at the White House, stayed home.
But “one income really doesn’t always cut it anymore,” she said.
“I personally … know the challenges of leading a busy life at work and at home, trying to do a good job at both and always feeling like you’re not quite living up to either,” Mrs. Obama said. “If people here are like me, I call myself a 120 percenter. If I’m not doing any job at 120 percent, I think I’m failing. So if you’re trying to do that at home and at work, you find it very difficult and stressful and frustrating.”
She praised the organization for its research, and suggested the challenge ahead will be to help employers see that investing in family friendly policies will pay off for them as well as their workers.