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Jarrett, Durbin to employers: Be more flexible with working moms

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett White House Dept. Labor Center for American Progress regional forum how businesses can meet

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett at a White House, Dept. of Labor and Center for American Progress regional forum, on how businesses can meet the needs of working families, on Monday, April 28, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 28, 2014 3:14PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Valerie Jarrett — senior adviser to President Barack Obama — were among the Democrats headlining a downtown event Monday intended to highlight ways of improving the lot of working families, particularly those headed by women.

Several speakers at the Chicago Forum on Working Families said that if American businesses want to remain competitive globally, then they need to be more flexible — particularly when it comes to working mothers dealing with childcare issues.

"This isn't just about government, this isn't just about doing it because it's good for our workers, it's really good for the business bottom line," said Tina Tchen, executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Employers willing to be flexible face lower turn-over rates and are better able to retain talent, Tchen said.

Jarrett shared some of her personal tales of the difficulties of being a working, single mother. She recalled when she was working for then-Mayor Richard Daley and was running late for a Halloween parade. Jarrett said she kept glancing at her watch while talking to Daley in his office.

"Finally, he looked at me and he said ... 'obviously, you're distracted,'' Jarrett recalled. "I said, 'the Halloween parade starts in, like, 20 minutes and it's 25 minutes away,' and he said, 'Then what are you doing here?'"

U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said it is a disgrace that the United States is one of only four countries in the world — the others being Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland — that don’t have guaranteed maternity leave.

“This is not a list we want to be on,” Schakowsky said.

Durbin, D-Ill., deplored Congress’ inability to raise the federal minimum wage to a level that would lift hardworking families out of poverty. He said that he was headed back to Congress later Monday to debate that very issue.

“If you get up and got to work every darn day and work hard, you should not be living in poverty — period,” he said. “That should be our standard in America.”

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