Photos of parents with sick children

Paid Sick Time Wins on Ballots

In last Tuesday’s election, voters in Massachusetts and three cities – Oakland, California, and Montclair and Trenton, New Jersey – approved paid sick time initiatives that benefit working mothers in particular.

These election results come on the heels of a slew of similar initiatives approved in the past year covering all or certain groups of workers in California and in San Diego, Washington, DC; Eugene, Oregon; several New Jersey municipalities; and the Tacoma suburb of SeaTac, according to an inventory of sick time laws compiled by the advocacy group, A Better Balance.

Mandated paid sick time for employees is growing in popularity but is still unavailable to significant numbers of working mothers, who, the data show, are more often responsible for children’s health than fathers. This issue is one more thing that – like lower pay – can disadvantage single women struggling to secure their personal finances today or save for retirement in the future, especially low-income women.

Research by Usha Ranji, associate director of women’s health policy for the health care non-profit organization, the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that 39 percent of working moms are forced to miss work when a child is sick, because they don’t have back-up child care; of them, 60 percent do not get paid for that time  – a decade ago, fewer than half of this group were in this position. …Learn More

apartments

U.S. Renters “Financially Fragile”

A new report by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation finds “a financially fragile renter population relative to homeowners.”

It’s hardly surprising that apartment dwellers who rent are worse off financially than homeowners. It takes money to buy a house.  But things got markedly worse for renters after the Great Recession. Millions of homeowners, foreclosed on by their lenders, were thrown back into the market for apartments, driving up rental rates and squeezing all renters.

A new FINRA Foundation report, “American Renters and Financial Fragility,” dramatizes the growing rift between the nation’s haves and have-nots through a comparison of owners and renters.

Click on “Learn More” below to see a FINRA Foundation chart contrasting the personal financial situation for renters versus homeowners, based on a 2012 survey.  The jobless rate has declined since then, but the rental market has only tightened. Rents have continually increased in recent years, reports Reis, a real estate tracking firm. And 85 percent of property managers nationwide reported they raised rents over the past year to capitalize on a decline in the number of vacant rental units, which continues in 2014, according to Rent.com. Housing costs in particular are becoming a burden for a growing numbers of older Americans. …Learn More

chinatown

A Thriving Underground Money Culture

Recent immigrants – whether from Mexico, Africa or China – often form groups that regularly contribute to a pool of money. Group members then take turns pulling out $500 or $1,000 in accumulated cash.

These savings groups are one aspect of a pervasive underground money culture bustling beneath the surface in U.S. communities of immigrants and other low-income workers.

Savings groups are one of four types of “informal” financial arrangements identified in a new report, “An Invisible Finance Sector: How Households Use Financial Tools of Their Own Making.” These arrangements create a strong social commitment to saving typically absent in the formal U.S. banking system.

The four arrangements discussed in the report are:

  • Savings groups, also known as lending circles, which are primarily found in immigrant communities.
  • Interpersonal loans.
  • Storing more than $100 in cash at home.
  • Money guards who safeguard someone else’s savings. …

Learn More

Stark Differences in U.S. Cost of Living

The Squared Away Blog’s focus is on how informed financial decisions can improve one’s personal finances or retirement prospects.  But much that impacts our standard of living is not in our control.

One example is the cost of consumer goods, healthcare, and renting or buying a home, which vary widely from one city or region to another.  To highlight this variation, the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., used recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to create the cool interactive map below, which shows locations with the highest cost of living (bright orange) and the lowest (bright turquoise).

Running a cursor over the map displays metropolitan and rural areas and their comparative living costs, measured in terms of what $100 will purchase.  In the Manhattan-New Jersey area, for example, $100 buys the equivalent of about $82 worth of goods, healthcare and housing, while it will buy $119 worth of the same stuff in central Kansas.


Source: The Tax Foundation.

The least expensive city is Danville, Illinois, where $100 buys $126 in consumer goods, followed by Jefferson City, Missouri; Jackson, Tenn.; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Rome, Georgia. The most expensive metropolitan areas are the usual suspects, in this order: Honolulu, Manhattan, Silicon Valley, the Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut, area outside Manhattan, and Santa Cruz, California, which is south of Silicon Valley.[A second map compares states.] …Learn More

South Has Highest Debt Collection Rate

It’s old news that working people in the South earn less than residents of thriving communities in California, the Northeast, the Upper Midwest and elsewhere.

What’s troubling is how many Southerners apparently can’t pay their bills.

West Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas – they’re among 13 states where more than four in 10 state residents’ credit card or other debts have been sent to collection agencies, according to a July report by the Urban Institute.

The report, based on data from the credit reporting firm TransUnion, provides insight into how many Americans continue to experience financial stress even though the recession is technically over.   The Urban Institute’s analysis doesn’t focus on mortgage debt, since delinquent home loans generally go into foreclosure and rarely to collections. Yet many of the Southern states were also hit harder by the housing market collapse than the nation as a whole. …Learn More

Best States for Growing Old

Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, Wisconsin, California and Maine – these states may be the best places to grow old.

They came out on top in AARP’s new State Scorecard based on their access, cost and the quality of their care services for aging adults and on their supports for the most common form of caregiver – family members.

To see your state’s overall ranking, run your cursor over the map below. To see how your state ranks on other measures, click here.

Enid Kassner, an AARP vice president who helped developed the rankings, said the Scorecard is useful to the leading edge of the baby boom generation, who will start turning 80 in 12 years. For example, if having a say in selecting the individual professional who will provide care, such as bathing, dressing, or meals, is the top priority, California is the best place to be. …Learn More

Government Workers See COLA Cuts

State and local government workers have long felt their pensions were more secure than the vanishing pension coverage in the private sector.  But a spate of changes to cost-of-living protections should give them pause.

In the wake of the Great Recession, 17 states reduced, suspended, or eliminated cost-of-living increases (COLAs) in their defined benefit pensions for state and local workers, according to a recent summary of legislative actions around the country by the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.  And the courts are backing them up, deciding that the inflation protections – a fixture of the majority of public pensions – do not have the same constitutional or other legal protections that apply to core benefits.

The COLA changes, enacted to reduce government pension liabilities, generally affect both current retirees’ benefits and the future retirement benefits of active employees.

The above map shows where the cuts have occurred.  The following is a summary of the specific change in each state: …

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