Obama on Why Michelle Was a Working Mom (at $316K Per Year): ‘We Didn't Have the Luxury for Her Not to Work’

Terence P. Jeffrey | April 9, 2012 | 3:57pm EDT
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Michelle and Barack Obama (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CNSNews.com) - Speaking Friday at what the administration called “The White House Forum on Women and the Economy,” President Barack Obama said that after his two daughters were born, he and his wife—both Harvard Law School graduates—could not afford the “luxury” of having her stay home with the children.

In 2005, when Obama began serving in the U.S. Senate (and his daughters turned 4 and 7), he and his wife were earning a combined annual income of $479,062. Barack Obama was paid a salary of $162,100 by the U.S. taxpayers, and Michelle Obama was paid $316,962 to handle community affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

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“And then there is the woman who once advised me at the law firm in Chicago where we met,” Obama said of his wife in his Friday talk. “Once she gave me very good advice.  That's why I decided to marry her. And once Michelle and I had our girls, she gave it her all to balance raising a family and pursuing a career--and something that could be very difficult on her, because I was gone a lot.

“Once I was in the state legislature, I was teaching, I was practicing law, I'd be traveling,” he said. “And we didn't have the luxury for her not to work.

“And I know when she was with the girls, she’d feel guilty that she wasn’t giving enough time to her work,” said Obama. “And when she was at work, she was feeling guilty she wasn’t giving enough time to the girls. And like many of you, we both wished that there were a machine that could let us be in two places at once. And so she had to constantly juggle it, and carried an extraordinary burden for a long period of time.”

Mrs. Obama graduated from Harvard Law School in 1988, according to The Complete Marquis Who’s Who. Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991.

When her daughter, Malia Obama, was born on July 4, 1998, Mrs. Obama (who was born on Jan. 17, 1964) was 34 year old. She had been out of Harvard Law for 10 years.

During those ten years, according to Who’s Who, Mrs Obama had worked at the Sidley and Austin law firm from 1988 to 1991, as an assistant to the mayor of Chicago from 1991 to 1993, and as the founding executive director of Public Allies-Chicago from 1993-1996. (The Chicago Sun-Times described Public Allies as “part of President Clinton’s Americorps effort").

In 1997, the year before Malia was born, Mrs. Obama started working as an associate dean of students at the University of Chicago.

For his part, Barack Obama was 36 years old and had been out of Harvard Law School for seven years by the time his eldest daughter was born. During those seven years, according to Who’s Who, Obama had worked in 1992 as executive direction of Project Vote, from 1993 to 1996 as an associate at the Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland law firm, and starting in 1996 as “of counsel” at that firm.

In 1997, the year before Malia was born, he was elected to the Illinois State Senate.

By the time daughter Sasha was born on June 10, 2001, Barack Obama was still of counsel with Davis, Miner firm and still in the state senate. Michelle Obama was still an associate dean of students at the University of Chicago.

In 2002, according to Who’s Who, Mrs. Obama became the executive director of community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

On Sept. 1, 2004, when Barack Obama was campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat he would win that November, the Chicago Tribune published a long profile of Michelle Obama. Written by reporter Cassandra West, it was headlined: “Her plan went awry, but Michelle Obama doesn’t mind.”

“A month after daughter Sasha was born, Obama got a call from the new president of the University of Chicago Hospitals, Michael Riordan,” the Tribune reported. “He wanted her to help build a vision for the hospital's nascent community affairs effort. It was a critical time for her, personally and professionally.”

“She was struggling ‘with wanting to be a good mother and was on the verge of saying ‘I'm not sure what I want to do [professionally], so I'm going to do what I haven't done before and stay home,’” the Tribune said.

“Like her husband had been, Riordan was a persistent suitor. He offered her ‘all the flexibility’ she desired. She took the job,” the Tribune reported. “That flexibility is allowing her the time she needs--and wants--to play a visible role in her husband's campaign.”

Despite this flexibility in her job,  Michelle Obama was well-compensated, earning $121,910 in 2004 and--as the Chicago Tribune would report in a Sept. 27, 2006 story--getting a raise to $316,962 the next year.

“Michelle Obama was promoted to vice president for external affairs in March 2005, two months after her husband took office in the Senate,” the Tribune reported. “According to a tax return released by the senator this week, the promotion nearly tripled her income from the hospitals from $121,910 in 2004 to $316,962 in 2005.”

“Hospitals spokesman John Easton said Obama's salary was in line with the compensation received by the not-for-profit medical center's 16 other vice presidents,” the Tribune reported.

According to FactCheck.org, Mrs. Obama’s compensation from the University of Chicago Medical Center decreased after 2005. By 2007, she earned only $103,633 when, according to FactCheck.org, she “actually started working part-time.”

“In fact, Mrs. Obama’s income in 2006, a year after her promotion, had decreased to $273,618,” said FactCheck.org. “And for 2007 (the year she actually started working part-time), her income was $103,633, according to the couple’s tax return for that year. She took an ‘unpaid leave of absence to work on her husband’s presidential campaign’ in 2008, but still received $62,709 from the hospital. However, [University of Chicago Medical Center spokesman] Easton noted that her final reported salary ‘consists of accumulated but unused vacation time plus the final payout from a supplemental executive retirement plan.’”

As president, Barack Obama is paid $400,000—or $79,062 less than the combined income he and Mrs. Obama earned in 2005, when she was a working mom with a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old, and he was a United States Senator.

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