Opinion: Supporting financial literacy education

Since my initial involvement with Junior Achievement of Greater Fairfield County as an after-school program volunteer sponsored by Aquarion Water Co., I have witnessed the direct impact Junior Achievement has had on generations of students and young parents.

I have seen how financial literacy programs can make a difference in the lives of our young people.

For example, last month, after giving the keynote address to the annual meeting of members of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Connecticut, I met one of my high school alumni from about 20 years. I was so excited to see that Jessica Parkins remembered me after all these years and even more excited to know that she is now a successful marketing executive at a major construction company. I am so proud of his accomplishments and his recognition of the impact of his years of experience with Junior Achievement. She remembers and thinks fondly of the time she spent working with other students in the Bridgeport area and learning from business leaders.

Every year, it seems, managing finances in your personal and professional life becomes more and more confusing.

Today, we need to make sense of no-fee checking accounts with a minimum required balance. Mutual funds. 529 Education savings plans. Individual retirement accounts. A host of different types of home loans. Credit unions. Auto loans and student loans. And, of course, Bitcoin.

Today, financial literacy involves much more than counting pocket money for the piggy bank. That’s why I support Junior Achievement of Greater Fairfield County, an organization that helps young people get the financial education they need to succeed in today’s world.

April is Financial Literacy Month, so it’s a good time to consider ways to teach financial literacy and call on the state Department of Education to support major financial literacy programs.

It is important to recognize that teaching financial literacy does not need to take place in a “stand-alone” classroom. That would be nice, but that’s not the reality today. On the contrary, it is much easier to integrate the many important concepts into existing courses. Parents, for example, can teach the basics of budgeting while shopping with their children. A percentage math course can include a session on calculating the true cost of using a credit card and paying off the balance over time.

A recent study found that 32% of teens can’t tell the difference between a credit card and a debit card. A national Bankrate survey found that 21% of US households have no money set aside for emergencies. CNBC reported that Americans are letting money slip through their fingers in the form of late fees, overdrafts and similar fees that add up to an annual household average of nearly $600.

Just a little financial education can help prevent individuals from being drawn into what will later turn out to be predatory lending practices. This is especially critical for low-income families, often the target of unscrupulous institutions and questionable business practices.

Another study found that 59% of parents are uncomfortable talking about money with their children. This is why programs offered in schools and organizations are essential in today’s world.

In the meantime, there are simple steps parents can take to help their children with some basics. Consider giving the child a weekly allowance and ask him to keep a written record of how he saves and spends the money. It could also be a good time to teach charity. What percentage of your allowance will you give?

Additionally, I urge everyone to get in touch with their local school board, local principal, state senator and state officials, as well as the state Board of Education , to demand more support for financial education in our schools.

A strong financial literacy program can help boost youth economic mobility. These essential business and life skills enable students to build their own futures and help bridge the opportunity gap that is still so prevalent in our society.

Nonprofits can be time-consuming, but schools need to be tasked with delivering these essential lessons. It’s for the long-term health of our communities.

George S. Logan is director of community relations at Aquarion Water Co, based in Bridgeport. He is a former state senator and a candidate for U.S. Representative in the Fifth District.

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