SF forum on working families explores how to better their lot

Mary Ignatius remembers the time she was pregnant with her second child and was waiting in line for ice cream with her 3-year-old when her doctor called with some news: her unborn son would be born with a birth defect, clubbed feet.

Despite the troubling news, the San Francisco resident found a treatment soon after the call. But it would take much more time than her allotted six weeks of maternity leave.

Luckily, Ignatius has a job in a state and a city that gave her that needed time as a right – paid family leave has been law in California since 2004.

“If I didn't have paid family leave, I don't know what I would have done,” she said at a forum on working families Tuesday, raising one of the casts doctors had to put on her son's legs as part of his treatment.

Most workers in America, including many women, don't have such benefits, or if they live in California, don't know they are available. Many are forced to choose devoting time between work and family, often choosing work because they have no other choice, according to a forum panelist.

This and other issues around creating a more family-friendly working environment were the focus of San Francisco's Regional Forum on Working Families, one of many across the country put on by the White House in preparation for its Summit on Working Families in June.

The forums bring people from business, government and the media to talk about, and come up with, ideas on how to “provide hard-working Americans the opportunity to get ahead.”

Mayor Ed Lee, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and nearly all of The City's elected officials who work in Washington, D.C., were present Tuesday in the State Building for the forum.

While working families and the issues they face was the focus, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier reminded the audience that the Bay Area and San Francisco in particular are facing an exodus of middle class families despite the booming economy. She called the declining middle class in the Bay Area a crisis.

“The middle class is desperately in need of our attention,” she said.

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