June 20, 2014 at 10:34 AM ET
Before President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle moved into the White House, they did everything from working at a book-binding shop to waiting tables for minimum wage to make ends meet.
Now they wouldn't mind their daughters, Malia, 15, and Sasha, 13, doing the same, to experience how many people in this country get by.
"I think every kids needs to get a taste of what it's like to do that real hard work,'' Michelle Obama told Parade magazine.
Before he received his law degree, Barack Obama slung ice cream at Baskin-Robbins and was a waiter at an assisted-living facility for senior citizens. In her senior year of high school, Michelle worked at a book-binding shop before she, too, pursued a law degree.
"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,'' Michelle 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."
The two have four Ivy League degrees between them, but started out with minimum-wage work to pay the bills when they were students. They'd like their girls to follow the same path.
"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 told Parade. "But that’s what most folks go through every single day.”
"That's what life is,'' the first lady said.
President Obama can still recall his work at the assisted living home.
“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. My first four jobs were minimum wage or close to it.”
Money was tight after the two finished law school, and they lived with Michelle's parents for a year.
"The car I drove for the first five years of our marriage was used,'' the president said. "I bought it for $1,000, paid cash. So, we pinched pennies."
On Monday, the White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Labor, and the Center for American Progress will host a Summit on Working Families to discuss the minimum wage and look for solutions to help families living paycheck to paycheck.
“We want to start the conversation and move on all fronts,'' the president 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 child care, 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.”