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Obama Meets With Working Women

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
      Sen. Barack Obama, sitting down with about 30 working women in Albuquerque on Monday to talk about their challenges, heard an earful: They don't make as much money as men, they can't afford health insurance and it's hard to juggle two jobs, not to mention also going to school.
    Obama, on his presidential campaign's so-called economic tour, told them he understands the plight of working women — he was raised by one and is married to one — and if elected president will work to change the country's culture of expecting more from women and paying them less.
    “We know that too many American daughters grow up facing barriers to their dreams, barriers that their male counterparts don't have to deal with. The system is stacked against women,” the Democrat from Illinois said.
    He spoke for about an hour, holding a cordless microphone in a casual gathering in the Flying Star restaurant chain's warehouse with stacks of cans and bags of coffee beans as backdrops.
    Obama's stop was his first in New Mexico since he gave a Memorial Day address in Las Cruces and the first since his primary Democratic opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, dropped out of the race.
    Obama was introduced in Albuquerque by Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who had supported Clinton but is now campaigning for Obama.
    Denish warmed up the small crowd by reciting dismal statistics about pay inequity, citing a recent report that showed working women in New Mexico earn on average 76 percent of what men earn. She said the numbers for Hispanic women and American Indian women were worse.
    Denish laid part of the blame at the feet of the Bush administration, saying women workers have made “absolutely no progress” in the last eight years.
    “The media has made a lot about angry white women,” Denish said. “Well, they're right about one thing: We're angry.”
    The women gathered around Obama in Albuquerque seemed more confused and concerned than angry, but they wanted answers about why Pell grants seem to be shrinking, about how to get access to affordable health care and how to break out of the working class by founding their own small businesses.
    Obama tried to draw distinctions between how his administration would deal with such issues compared to his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain. He stressed his promise to expand the child care income tax credit to 50 percent of the amount spent on child care, to expand the Family Medical Leave Act to cover businesses with as few as 25 employees, to require employers to give employees 24 hours of unpaid annual leave to attend school functions as well as seven paid sick days each year.
    Obama also repeated his promises to index the minimum wage to inflation and to give middle-income families a $1,000 income tax cut.
    Responding to a question from Satellite Coffee barista Simona Muniz, who said she also works cleaning houses and is trying to earn a college degree in education, Obama said he would expand Pell grants to lower-income students. He said he would also offer programs to help make college more affordable — a $4,000 income tax credit for college students who agree to do national or community service and free college tuition to students who commit to teach in schools in underserved communities.
    Muniz, who came into the gathering supporting Obama, left even more impressed.
    “I was really excited about his answers,” she said. “That's a good man. What else can I say?”
    Obama also responded to a noneconomic question from Flying Star counter server Erin Sanchez, who asked him how he stays true to himself in the nonstop glare of campaigning and how she could be sure he would be the president he says he'll be.
    He suggested judging how he would be as a president by how he has lived his life. And he talked about doing his own juggling act — balancing time spent away from his children against the goal of doing good work.
    “What grounds me is my family,” he said. “In politics, if you're not getting something done, it's probably not worth it.”
    Before the forum, Obama made a brief tour of the central bakery for the Albuquerque-based Flying Star chain of restaurants. Flying Star founder and owner Jean Bernstein and the company's chief operating officer, Clyde Harrington, took Obama past workers weighing out giant globs of whipped butter to be used in making croissants, filling tins with dough for lemon custard pies and decorating the cakes Flying Star is famous for.
    “Is this all low-fat?” he joked as he walked past the piles of butter.
    The company employs 590 full- and part-time workers, about half women.