WALPOLE, N.H. – Democrat Barack Obama on Monday compared the nation's attitude toward working women to its approach to health care, arguing that in both cases, lack of support early on ends up costing more later.
The Illinois senator and presidential hopeful met with nine women at L.A. Burdick chocolate company, where several workers praised the company for offering family leave and flexible schedules. Other participants in the round-table meeting said they weren't so lucky, however, including a newly single mother of two teenagers who is working two jobs to make ends meet.
Susan Callaway of Keene, who works at her son's school and is pursuing a career in real estate, described the difficulty she had re-entering the work force after working mostly part-time jobs while she raised her children.
"I feel like I live in a society that doesn't support my values as a mother," she said. "Quite frankly, I'm pretty overwhelmed."
Obama said helping parents juggle family and work when their children are young will pay off in increased productivity in the long run.
"It's very similar to the mistake we make with health care in this country, where we don't provide people with health care up front, so people put off basic prevention and we end up seeing them in the emergency room where we pay twice as much," he said.
He has proposed expanding the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to cover more workers and to allow people to use the time to attend school activities or to care for elderly relatives. He also has proposed spending $1.5 billion to encourage states to offer paid family leave and doubling the funding for after-school programs.
"We talk a lot about family values, but we don't as a society and as a government value families," said Obama.
Hope Grenier of Charlestown, the mother of three girls, told Obama that her supervisors at the chocolate company gave her time off when her mother was ill and are understanding when family emergencies arise.
"I wish more mothers had that opportunity. I think parenting is the hardest job you're ever going to do -- maybe besides being president," she said to laughter.
"Parenting ranks right up there," said Obama, the father of two young girls.
Earlier, Obama met privately in Nashua with homeless veterans and promoted his plan to establish grant and voucher programs to encourage development of affordable housing targeted for veterans. He also held a town-hall meeting in Lebanon, where the crowd of more than 500 people interrupted his opening remarks with four standing ovations. He prefaced the question-and-answer session by saying, "By the way, these questions have not been prescreened or preselected."
It was a reference to the admission by rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign to planting a question for her at an Iowa event. Clinton has said she knew nothing about the planted question.