North Carolina women join Obama at family conference


McClatchy Washington Bureau

It’s been seven years since Jennifer Ferris of Chapel Hill, N.C., had a full-time job. It’s also been seven years since Ferris had her first child.

When her son was 6 months old, Ferris had to make a choice: Pay for $12,000-a-year child care she could barely afford or quit her job.

“I don’t believe that we need to live in a world where people need to make those decisions,” Ferris said. “I made the decision. It was a hard one. And I’m paying for it.”

Ferris’ story is not unique. Hundreds of women, business leaders and politicians with similar stories packed into a Washington hotel Monday for a White House-sponsored conference on families in which dozens of people reflected on myriad problems they’ve had with the balance between families and work.

President Barack Obama was among several notable speakers at the conference, in which figures from Maria Shriver and Robin Roberts to Gloria Steinem and Vice President Joe Biden voiced their support for workplace revisions, such as reducing the cost of child care.

The president admonished the “outdated” workplace policies in the United States. Obama called on Congress to pass legislation such as the Pregnant Worker’s Discrimination Act and announced an executive action to protect federal workers from retaliation if they request flexible hours.

“Family leave, child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage: These are not frills, they are basic needs,” Obama said. “They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society. That’s what we’re striving for.”

Obama noted that in 31 states, child care is more expensive than in-state college tuition.

Hearing the White House recognize stories such as her own was a milestone for Ferris, she said. Although she’s built a freelance writing and editing business since she left the workforce, Ferris lamented the sacrifices she’s had to make in order to develop the part-time business.

Women lose 19 percent of their wages on average after having children, which is known as the “mommy tax.”

Although her husband worked in the North Carolina government when they had children, the state’s policies didn’t accommodate the family’s needs, Ferris said.

North Carolina received a “D” grade when the National Partnership for Women and Families analyzed states’ laws to accommodate working families. Thirty other states were marked with “D” or a failing grade, according to the report released June 19.

As for attorney Charlie Reece, when the North Carolina government’s workplace policies didn’t accommodate his family’s needs, he changed employment _ to his wife’s family business. The business, called Rho, is a medical research organization that’s since won awards for its flexible workplace policies.

“It ended up impacting both of our careers very negatively,” said his wife, Laura Helms Reece, the CEO of Rho. “So now that we’re in an environment that’s flexible, I feel like both of our careers thrive.”

Charlie Reece said he and his wife were working with regional businesses to implement more policies that are family-friendly.

“It’s really good business sense,” Laura Reece said. “It’s good for our bottom line to keep people happy and engaged.”

Charlie Reece joked that Rho would lose its “competitive advantage” if the policies caught on with other North Carolina businesses.

The Reeces and Ferris traveled to Washington as part of a delegation with Women AdvaNCe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to North Carolina women’s issues.

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • 5 things to know about driving on marijuana

    The legalization of recreational marijuana in two states — Colorado and Washington — and medical marijuana in more than 20 others has raised concern that there will be more drivers stoned behind the wheel. What's not clear is whether that will translate into an increase in fatal crashes. Five things to know about marijuana and driving:

FILE - In this June 11, 2014, file photo, former Blackwater Worldwide guard Nicholas Slatten enters a taxi cab as he leaves federal court in Washington, after the start of his trial. After 10 weeks of argument and testimony, the case goes to the jury on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014.

    Blackwater legacy: a faint memory of Nisoor Square

    The summer-long trial of four Blackwater security guards in the shootings of more than 30 Iraqis has been a grim retelling of lives snuffed out and the daily life-and-death decisions amid the chaos of war.

President Barack Obama waves from Air Force One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.

    Russia's gains cloud Obama's assurances to Baltics

    For the second time this year, President Barack Obama will travel to Russia's backyard to assure nervous nations of his ironclad commitment to their security. But his objectives will be clouded by the West's inability to halt the Russian aggression in Ukraine that has stoked fears in other former Soviet republics.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category