Metro

Obama drums up support for Raimondo

Stumping for Democratic gubernatorial nominee, president highlights women’s rights issues

By
Staff Writer
Monday, November 3, 2014

President Obama emphasized the need for an economy that encourages more women to be active in the workforce during a speech at Rhode Island College Oct. 31. More than 1,000 attendees turned out to hear his pitch on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial nominee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

Obama is the third national Democratic leader to visit Rhode Island in the past week, as Election Day approaches and recent polls show a tight race for governor. His speech came a day after First Lady Michelle Obama made an appearance at a “Get Out the Vote” campaign event hosted by Raimondo. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headlined a similar campaign event for Raimondo at RIC Oct. 24.

If women were encouraged to work and were paid equally for their labor, everyone in the economy would benefit, Obama said.

Prior to becoming president, Obama said there was a time when First Lady Michelle Obama was earning a higher income than he was.

Working parents face a “catch-22,” Obama said. They want to provide the best opportunities for their children by working but also feel guilty about not spending enough time with them as a result, he added.

The United States needs to encourage flexible work plans that allow employees to work from home, he added.

“I agree with a lot of what he said,” Ellen Sukharevsky ’17 said. “But I feel like he can’t accomplish everything that he promised in the short period of time he has left in office.”

Ann-Marie Harrington, president and founder of Embolden, a Pawtucket-based website-building company, allows her 21 employees to work from home, which has actually increased the company’s efficiency, Obama said.

In 2013, an estimated 57 percent of mothers of infants participated in the work force, according to 2013 annual averages from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. But women often have to leave the workforce to take care of children, leading to lower wages for the rest of their lives, he said.

“Paid family leave should be the law of the land,” Obama said, citing a recently adopted policy at Google that extends paid maternity leave to five months for both male and female employees.

Having an “enlightened boss” who is willing to provide work flexibility to employees is not enough, Obama said. American companies need to “do away with policies and politicians that belong to a ‘Mad Men’ episode,” he added, eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowd.

“I found (the event) very relevant to issues happening in Rhode Island because it was a lot about changes we need to make economically,” said Hayley Buckey ’16. “I cried when he had a first-generation college student introduce him. That was my favorite part.”

“I found (the event) pretty interesting because it will probably apply to me later in life,” said Shandell Scott ’17, adding that her plans to enter the medical industry may lead her to experience gendered income disparities first-hand.

Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez ’83, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., — who is seeking election to a fourth term in the Senate ­— and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., all attended Obama’s speech, as Rhode Island Democrats engage in final get-out-the-vote efforts before voters go to the polls Tuesday. Political analysts expect Reed to easily win reelection.

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