Spotlight Exclusives

President and First Lady Step Up Focus on Key Poverty Initiatives

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This past week saw a heightened focus from the White House on issues affecting low-income families and children.

On Monday, June 23, President Obama hosted a Summit on Working Families with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Center for American Progress. The summit aimed to create a national conversation and bring together business, labor, legislators, advocates, and working citizens to talk through the issues facing working families.

At the event President Obama addressed a number of issues affecting working families, including paid parental leave, the right to request a flexible schedule, and workplace protection for pregnant women. “Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth — now that’s a pretty low bar,” the president said. Among his many asks at the summit, the president urged Congress to pass legislation requiring employers to accommodate pregnant employees.

In coordination with the summit, the president released a presidential memorandum designed to enhance workplace flexibility and work-life balance. “Family leave, childcare, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills. They are basic needs,” President Obama said to summit attendees. “They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society.”

Meanwhile, just days before on Friday, June 20, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed disparities in summer educational opportunities in a speech at the National Summer Learning Day celebration as part of her Reach Higher initiative. The event, spearheaded by the National Summer Learning Association and the U.S. Department of Education, drew national attention to issues such as loss of reading skills over the summer, which disproportionately affect low-income students and widen the achievement gap year after year.

The first lady spoke to an audience of high school students about the importance of college preparedness, and acknowledged inequalities in the level of college preparation between lower-income students and their higher-income peers. “There are kids who are really serious about getting into college, and they work on this with the help of parents and tutors, and they’re prepping for their SATs already,” she said. “You don’t want to fall behind just because you took the summer off.”

The first lady also addressed the topic of educational access, suggesting that summer learning opportunities must be provided for all students. “We█¬re going to work to make sure that every young person in America can have a great summer learning experience, no matter where they come from or how much money their parents have,” she said at the event. Currently, only about one-third of low-income youth participate in a summer learning opportunity, according to a recent survey, and few are high-quality programs designed to stem summer learning loss.

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