Obama: Malia and Sasha should build character in minimum wage jobs

In this file photo, President Barack Obama, second from left, with first lady Michelle Obama, right, and their daughters Malia, left, and Sasha, walk from the White House in Washington, to attend a Sunday church service Oct. 27, 2013.


President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama agreed in an interview published Friday that they would like to see their daughters work a minimum-wage job to build character.

"I think every kid needs to get a taste of what it's like to do that real hard work," the first lady told Parade Magazine.

"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 added. "But that's what most folks go through every single day."

"That's what life is," the first lady agreed.

In the interview, the first couple also recalled their own experiences in low-paying jobs during adolescence and young adulthood.

The president described his work as a waiter at an assisted living facility -- a job even his wife didn't know about.

"It was a great job, although the folks there sometimes were cranky because they were on restricted diets," he said. "Mr. Smith would want more salt, and you'd say, 'I'm sorry, Mr. Smith. You're not allowed.'"

"I also worked as a painter," he added. "My first four jobs were minimum wage or close to it."

Mrs. Obama recalled her job at a bindery in her senior year of high school, where she worked "side by side with grown-ups who had been there their entire lives."

"Knowing that I, as a 16-year-old, was getting the same income and doing the same work... it gave me respect for those workers," she said. "But it also gave me an understanding that more is needed for folks to be able to cobble together a decent life on minimum wage."

They also remembered some thrifty years after they both finished law school.

"When Michelle graduated from law school, she went back and lived in her parents' house, upstairs. When I got out of law school, I moved in with her. So we lived for a year in Michelle's mom's second floor," the president said. "The car I drove for the first five years of our marriage was used. I bought it for $1,000, paid cash. So, we pinched pennies."

And their years on a shoestring budget, the first couple said, gave them a personal understanding of the problems many working families face.

"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," Mr. Obama said. "At minimum, you're losing income you can't afford to lose. Michelle had an ailing dad when we were first dating; he had multiple sclerosis. She remembers the toll that took on the family."

The president said their experience has informed his push to update workplace policies by providing workers with paid time off, ensuring women receive equal pay, and raising the minimum wage - all goals he'd like to achieve before he leaves office.

"We want to start the conversation and move on all fronts," he said. "There are things I can do administratively, like executive orders on equal pay and on minimum wages for workers on federal contracts. If I want a minimum wage nationally, we need Congress to act. On childcare, we're pushing for universal pre-K. On all fronts, we're pushing for legislation. But if Congress doesn't act, then we'll work with various stakeholders, highlighting companies and businesses that are doing the right thing."