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Forum addresses struggles of working families

CAMBRIDGE - Families are working harder than ever, but falling further behind -- and easing their struggle will require significant policy changes, including raising the minimum wage, closing the gender wage gap, refinancing student loan debt, and creating affordable child care, a group of women lawmakers, economists, and researchers said Monday.

These and other proposals were discussed as part of forum on the challenges facing working families, one of five similar gathering held around the country in advance of a White House Summit on Working Families June 23. Senator Elizabeth Warren kicked off the Cambridge event with a story about her Aunt Bee, who dropped everything to come help Warren, at the time an overwhelmed young mother and law school professor, raise her children.

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Today’s families are still dealing with the same issues, Warren said, but they have become more acute as costs rise, wages stagnate, and more women enter the workforce.

“No one should work full time and still live in poverty,” she said. “And yet a mom who makes minimum wage cannot support herself and a baby.”

Fixing these problems is not just good for families, it’s good for the economy, said the speakers. Too many women, for instance, pick jobs that give them time to pick up their kids from school instead of ones that take advantage of their talents, said Betsey Stevenson, an economic adviser to President Obama. If workplaces were more flexible, she said, employees -- and the country -- would be better off.

“It’s past time for our workplace policies to catch up to 21st century families,” said Maya Harris, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank that aims to improve lives through progressive ideas.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

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