Amid growing foreign policy crises, President Barack Obama is encouraging Congress and the country to focus on issues here at home -- namely how to improve the livelihoods of working families. On Monday, the president and first lady Michelle Obama will hold a Working Families Summit in Washington, which highlights economic issues affecting American families at home and in the workplace.
"Every single day, there are conversations around the kitchen table where people are trying to figure out, this child care is costing so much, I'm not sure that we're going to be able to make our mortgage at the end of the month," the president said to Kate Bolduan of CNN's "New Day." "There are folks who are saying, 'Little Johnny is sick, but if I don't show up at my job, because I don't have paid family leave, we're not going to be able to pay the electricity bill.' "
Bolduan sat down with the president on Friday to discuss how he plans to achieve his administration's goal of a "21st-century workplace that works for all Americans."
Here are the five things we learned from our sitdown with the president:
1. The goal of the summit is ...
"... to lift up the conversation that everybody is already having individually and let people know you're not alone out here," Obama said.
The president said he believes "good, strong, healthy families" are the foundation of our society. But today, according to Obama, those working families are struggling to get by as parents are having difficulty juggling their obligations at home and work.
"And if that's the case, it's not just about giving lip service to it," he said. "We've got to reduce the stresses on families. And I think if you ask most families around the country, 'What's the biggest stress?' It has to do with financial pressures and time pressures that are constantly encroaching on them."
2. Obama's three priorities at the Working Families Summit:
Priority one: Paid family leave
According to a survey from the United Nations' labor agency, of the 185 countries and territories with readily available information, only three do not provide paid maternity leave. And, you guessed it, the United States made that list. The other two countries are Oman and Papua New Guinea.
"Paid family leave, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't have it," the President said. "It doesn't make any sense. There are a lot of countries that are a lot poorer than we are that also have it."
But the president said paid family leave isn't just a women's issue, as he reflected on his days of becoming a new working dad.
"One of the most precious memories that I'll ever have is when my first daughter, Malia, was born," he said. "I was lucky enough that my schedule allowed me to take that first month off. And staying up until 2 in the morning and feeding her and burping her creates a bond that is irreplaceable."
Right now in the United States, employees can take 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers can choose to provide paid leave, but less than half do. According to a 2012 survey from the Department of Labor, 48 percent of employees who went on leave received full pay, while 17 percent received only partial pay.
"We have unpaid family leave right now, but for a whole lot of families, it means they can't use it because they just can't afford it," Obama said.
Priority two: Workplace flexibility
The president said he's pushing for workplace flexibility to give parents the opportunity to become more involved in their children's lives and education.
"We always say that we want parents involved in our kids' education," he said. "There are millions of families out there who can't even imagine taking time off to go to a parent-teacher conference."
This type of workplace flexibility is a practice that he and the first lady believe will improve employee morale and motivation.
"When we knew that employers had our backs and were willing to give us flexibility to look after family, that made us want to work harder for that employer," he said. "Even if it meant taking work home with us, if it meant coming in on Saturday to replace the time we had taken off on Tuesday. And that, I think, has been the experience of a lot of employers."
Priority three: Child care
Obama administration officials say they are focusing on the issue of child care at Monday's summit. White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett cited a survey that found that over a three-month stretch, 29 percent of working parents had a child care emergency.
"What happens if you've got to leave in the middle of the day? If you are a low-wage worker and you leave, you could lose your job," Jarrett said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"We don't do a very good job providing high-quality, affordable child care, and there are a lot of countries, a lot of our competitors do it," Obama told Bolduan. "That means that it's a lot easier for women to be in the workforce and not have to make choices that ultimately mean they're, in some cases, getting paid less or having less opportunities. And it also means, by the way, that our kids are more likely to thrive."