On June 23, the White House will host a Working Families Summit “to talk about how we can make sure the economy’s working as well as it can for American families,” Betsey Stevenson, a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told a White House briefing on Wednesday.
Among other things, Stevenson said the Working Families Summit will consider ways to “release constraints” on women, including their role as care-givers, which deprive them of wages and career opportunities:
“You know, what you see is that women, as they get into that point where, you know, there’s a lot of family burdens, they’ve got young kids at home, they’re making trade-offs, they’re put in positions where they end up resulting in a larger gender-wage gap. What we want to do is make sure that we’ve done as much as we can, that businesses are doing as much as they can to not lose women at those critical moments when they’re having children, when they have young children at home.”
She said the Working Families Summit “is definitely going to be focusing on all the different aspects of care-giving that people need to do,” including caring for aging parents or disabled family members.
(President Obama also spoke of the “burdens” on women Wednesday. During a meeting with female members of Congress, he noted that “women are still the ones that are carrying the greatest burden when it comes to trying to balance family and work. Because of inadequate child care or the inability to get paid leave for a sick child or an ailing parent, they end up suffering the burdens, and by the way, that means families are suffering the burden because increasingly, women are a critical breadwinner for families all across the country.”)
While the labor force participation rate for women has stalled in the United States, “other countries have continued to make progress in bringing women’s labor force participation up to equality with men’s,” Stevenson said.
She pointed to a chart showing that other countries — Sweden, Canada, France, Germany and the Netherlands — have female participation rates higher than that of the United States:
“What research shows us is that countries that provide more support to working families, more flexible work arrangements, greater access to paid leave, greater access to child care, greater access to early childhood education — all of those things actually do facilitate women participating to a greater extent in the labor force,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson told the briefing that there’s more the United States can do to “encourage women to participate in the labor force, to make sure that they’re able to make the most of their talent and that our labor force is able to get the most out of their talent.”
The Working Families Summit will convene business leaders, educators, researchers, advocates, lawmakers, state and local government — “everyone who wants to participate.”
The goal is to “develop both a set of best practices that we hope will inform how businesses make decisions, sharing examples of things that businesses have learned that — you know, ways in which they can actually make changes that improve the situation for women and working families, but also improve their bottom line.”
In addition to sharing best practices, “We’re also hoping to get some ideas for what would be ideal policy and what should be the policies that leaders should be pursuing coming forward. So, you know, this is an attempt to bring people together to create and articulate a vision for the changes we need to make to the labor market to support working families better.”
Stevenson rejected the notion that the Working Families Summit is just another way for Democrats to appeal to women in an election year: “It’s an important issue for the economy,” she said. “And as the labor force has started to recover, it’s important for us now to think about how to make sure that the labor force is working as well as it can for everyone.”