Obamas worked minimum wage, want daughters to share experience

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and First Lady Michelle Obama (R) hold hands with daughters Malia (L) and Sasha as they walk from the White House to St. John's Church for Sunday services, in Washington, October 27, 2013. Credit: Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and First Lady Michelle Obama (R) hold hands with daughters Malia (L) and Sasha as they walk from the White House to St. John’s Church for Sunday services, in Washington, October 27, 2013.
Credit: Reuters

President Barack Obama and wife Michelle both worked minimum-wage jobs before they got law degrees: a character-building experience they said they also want their teenage daughters to share.

The president scooped ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, waited tables at an assisted-living facility for seniors and also worked as a painter. The first lady worked at a book binding shop.

“I think every kid needs to get a taste of what it’s like to do that real hard work,” Michelle Obama said in an interview with Parade magazine, slated to run on Sunday.

“We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair,” the president said. “But that’s what most folks go through every single day.”

The first couple has taken pains to keep their daughters Malia, 16, and Sasha, 13, out of the public eye while in the White House. But Malia was recently spotted on the set of a CBS television program, working as a production assistant for a day.

The Obamas gave the interview to promote a summit the White House is holding on Monday to discuss policies to help working families.

“There are structures that can help families around child care, healthcare, and schooling that make an enormous difference in people’s lives,” Obama said in the interview.

This year, Obama has tried to focus on issues such as ensuring equal pay for women, expanding early childhood education and hiking the minimum wage. These issues so far have failed to gain traction in Congress, but do resonate with Democratic voters.

To advance his agenda, he needs Democrats to keep control of the Senate after November midterm elections, where Republicans stand a good chance of getting a majority, and likely also will retain control of the House of Representatives.

“If we can highlight these issues and sustain it over the next year, it’s still possible to see bold action out of Congress,” Obama said.

In the interview, the Obamas talked about how they lived for a year on the second floor of the house of Michelle’s mom Marian Robinson after law school, drove a used car that they bought for $1,000, and worked through the stress of being saddled with student loans and small children.

They acknowledged that their careers gave them the chance to earn good incomes and negotiate family leave when they needed it – a luxury that most minimum-wage workers do not have.

“But what it made me think about was people who were on the clock,” the president said. “If you’re an hourly worker in most companies, and you say, ‘I’ve got to take three days off,’ you may lose your job. At minimum, you’re losing income you can’t afford to lose,” he said.



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