Remarks by the First Lady at the Redbook Magazine
"Mother & Shakers of 1998" Awards Ceremony
June 2, 1998
The White House
We've come together today to salute eight extraordinary women who have made a very real difference in the lives of families in their own communities and across the nation. At our table during lunch, I learned a lot more about what some of these women have accomplished and I am just delighted that the country will learn more about what they have achieved because if we could take all of their achievements and put them together we would have a much better system of child care nationwide. Somebody who believes that and has worked with me to that end is my friend, Tipper Gore who is also with us and I'd like to acknowledge Tipper and ask her to please stand.
Tipper and I have spent a lot of time in the last years talking about our own children and also talking about children throughout our country and indeed the world. So for us to be able to acknowledge the accomplishments of all of you gives us a great deal of satisfaction, Whether it was establishing child care centers or setting up hotlines for parents or partnering with businesses or lobbying elected officials, you have been working in your own communities to promote child care and to move it to the forefront of the national agenda by giving working parents more choices and more opportunities to succeed at home and at work. It is important to pause once in a while to take measure of how far we've come and to honor those who've helped us get there so I want to commend Redbook for creating these mothers and shakers awards and for running the article on child care in its June issue, Kate, because I think that we still have some work to do in both raising public awareness and dispelling stereotypes about the difficult choices families face in finding the child care they need.
You've performed an important public service because you've helped to shine the spotlight on women who've worked diligently and often in the shadows to improve the lives of children and working families and help raise public awareness by providing parents with critical information about to find safe affordable child care.
Today as we anticipate the extraordinary possibilities of the next century it's a little hard to imagine what life was like for women living in America just a century ago: Certainly our life span was much shorter -- many of us would not be around at the age that we are. We would have lost those of us who have had children, many of the babies we birthed we would have seen some succumb to infectious diseases for which there were no cures or antibiotics or vaccinations and Redbook was first published nearly a century ago in 1903 and it has helped to chart the lives and the changes in the lives of American women back then.
Certainly our nation has under gone profound changes as more and more women have not only lived longer and survived childbirth, two major accomplishments of this century, but have themselves joined the workforce outside the home transforming their lives and the life of this nation forever. We saw a great move into the workforce as a result of World War II, and we saw the government, when it needed women to be part of the war effort, step in to provide child care so that those women could got to work.
We've made a lot of progress but of course we have a lot left to do. This country has a great economy right now, we are blessed with prosperity and much of that is because women are working. Women who are using their skills, their education, their talents in our workforce and creating not only better opportunities for themselves and their families but for the rest of us as well. We know that women make up almost half of the workforce and as a result we know that many children have to spend some or all of their day away from their parents in child care. We also know that we many single women who are raising their children themselves and are their sole support and have no choice but to work.
Now over the years I, like many of you, have spent many many hours talking to working mothers. First when I myself was a working mom and sitting around kitchen tables or in the bleachers at sporting events or at playgrounds or in my office I found that the uppermost issue on most working mothers minds was child care and the dilemma that we have all lived with that is raised by the conflict between family and work and the need for all of us to do a better job in balancing those competing demands. What we tried to do was to take that dialogue that conversation that every one of has on our own and take it out of the kitchens and out from around the water coolers and out from the supermarket aisles where I often had it, and put it into the national arena.
That's why the President and I hosted the first ever White House Conference on Child Care last year as well as the Conference on Early Childhood Development. We knew from the work the scientists were doing how critical the first three years are to a child's intellectual and emotional growth and we also knew how difficult it is for many parents to feel that they were doing right both by their jobs which put food on the table and by their children who are the most important people in their lives, Now thanks to you we have made child care a national priority and we have presented legislation to the Congress.
As you know the President has proposed a historic investment in child care, over 20 million dollars over the next five years that will make child care more affordable to America's working parents. It will also expand opportunities to promote early learning and child development. It will also ensure greater safety and quality enhance efforts for background checks help parents and schools establish after school programs in their communities. But one of the things that I have found is that often times when a President announces something as he did in the State of the Union and then follows it up with legislation, many Americans think the work is over . I was recently with Congresswoman Tausher in her district in California and we had a panel discussion in a wonderful facility a school that had an added-on building where they were running a very good after school program and the Congresswoman and I were sitting with experts from the community and people who had supported this program and the questions and the comments were all assuming that the Presidents plan was going to get through the Congress we heard from the Superintendent who said "You know, we'll sure be able to use that money because we're still not reaching all of our students". We heard from a teacher who said "You know, I'm so excited that the federal government is finally going to help us because we don't have the facilities we need in our poor areas of this county for after-school care". And you know the Congresswoman and I were somewhat surprised because of course we know how difficult it is to get legislation like this through in the current Congress and so we have to re-instill a sense of urgency in America's working families, and teachers and advocates and business leaders who have applauded this commitment as being not only good for children and families but good for America. So you are helping us to get that word out by coming together to honor people who have been on the front lines doing the work that needs to be done.
But I have to ask you all of you who are hear at this lunch to do what you can to make sure that this critical issue stays on America's agenda. That we don't have a sigh of relief throughout the country because people somehow think that since the President proposed this legislation it's going to necessarily be passed and implemented. The President is committed to continuing to fight for his proposal to make child care better, safer, more affordable. There are good child care bills on both sides of the aisle. Child care should not be a partisan issue we are not talking about taking care of democratic or republican or independent children we are talking about taking care of American children and we have to continue to push for significant legislation this year on behalf of our children.
We have a related issue that is connected to this one and that is the tobacco legislation that is currently in the Congress. We have an opportunity to reach agreement on historic legislation to save our children from the dangers of smoking. There are obviously difficult issues left unresolved but this is also a challenge to what kind of nation were going to be and how much care concern and protection we are going to extend our youngest citizens. Congress should act quickly to pass tobacco legislation and I hope that every citizen will make their voices heard on this important issue as well. Because we have an opportunity when it comes to the President's education reform agenda, when it comes to his child care legislation when it comes to his proposal to try and do what we can to end teenage smoking. We have an opportunity to really continue to move forward on the American agenda for America's children but I am under no illusions that this will be an easy effort, there are many forces arrayed against these pieces of the President's agenda for reasons that I think have very little to do with the well being and future prospects of our children. So I hope that we will take the energy that is in this room and take the example that we will hear more about that is set by each of our honorees and redouble our own efforts on behalf of doing what we can to bring about significant child care legislation in this session of Congress.