October 22, 2013
Food Stamps Need Rises in Good Times
Enrollment in the federal food stamp program, known as SNAP – for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – has more than doubled over the past decade to 47 million.
What’s remarkable is that for the first time the number of Americans receiving food stamps increased even in a period when the economy was growing. During the 2003-2007 expansion, the SNAP case load, in a break with historic trends, rose 24 percent.
One explanation is the change in the longstanding correlation between the unemployment rate and poverty, according to research findings by economists Matt Rutledge and April Yanyuan Wu of the Center for Retirement Research, which were presented at the Retirement Research Consortium meeting in August.
Poverty used to fall in tandem with the jobless rate, reducing the need for food stamps. But the researchers found that the mid-2000s expansion was different: poverty did not decline as the economy grew.
In the recovery that has followed the Great Recession, the number of people receiving food stamps continued to rise, according to federal data.
The assumption has always been that a stronger labor market will reduce the need for food stamps. But this new trend suggests rising employment might no longer be enough. Reducing the food stamp rolls may require a broader recovery or initiatives to reduce poverty and provide more jobs for the marginally employed.
Full disclosure: The research cited in this post was funded by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) through the Retirement Research Consortium, which also funds this blog. The opinions and conclusions expressed do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government.Learn More
May 16, 2013
Our Mission at Year 2
The best place to invest, the coolest cash back rewards, the smartest or cheapest or lowest-rate mortgage – infinite spin ushers out of the financial world every day, and it’s all aimed at you.
That’s among the reasons the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College started this blog in May 2011. The blog’s focus is not financial products but financial behavior: what people do, why we do it, and how we can do it better. At its two-year anniversary, the Squared Away Blog hopes that it has become a reliable source of information for a growing number of readers of all ages who struggle every day to save and invest for their own or their children’s futures.
It’s important to explain to readers what “reliable” means for a blog housed at a university think tank. First, it’s about credibility. We are not selling anything. The blog is supported by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration, which has an interest in making sure Americans get good financial information.
Second, Squared Away routinely covers the latest research – our own or others – about financial behavior, or we use it to inform other articles you’ll read here. That’s because empirical research, which uses statistical analysis to figure out what’s really going on, is critical to understanding and tackling our personal finance challenges. …Learn More
March 21, 2013
White-Black Wealth Gap Nearly Triples
Over the past 25 years, the difference in wealth held by white and black households in the United States has nearly tripled, to $236,500.
In December, Squared Away wrote about the difficulty that black families have in trying to accumulate wealth so they can pass it on to their children. New research out of Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy now finds that the gap between the median net worth for white and black households has widened to a chasm, as blacks have fallen farther behind.
The study also quantified the reasons for the widening gap and found that the difficulty of building up housing equity is the largest factor.
A house is usually the single largest asset owned by middle-class American families. But starkly different homeownership patterns between blacks and whites – ownership rates are lower for blacks, who also own their homes for fewer years than whites – accounted for 27 percent of the increase in the wealth gap.
Housing’s impact has been “incredibly large” and is the “key driver” of the growing black-white wealth gap, said Thomas Shapiro, the institute’s director. “It’s part of the disadvantage that keeps working its way through the life course” from one generation of a black family to the next, he said. …Learn More
November 8, 2012
Women’s Pay Gap Explained
Lower pay for women came up – where else! – in the foreign policy debate between President Obama and Governor Romney. It affects women’s living standards, single mothers’ ability to care for their children, and everyone’s retirement – husbands and wives.
To understand why women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, Squared Away interviewed Francine Blau of Cornell University, one of the nation’s top authorities on the matter. A new collection of her academic work, “Gender, Inequality, and Wages,” was published in September.
Q: How has the pay gap changed over the years?
Blau: For a very long time, the gender-pay ratio, which is women’s pay divided by men’s pay, was around 60 percent – in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Around the 1980s, female wages started to rise relative to male wages. In 1990, the ratio was 72 percent – that was quite a change, from 60 to 72 in 10 years. We continued to progress but it is less dramatic. In 2000, it was 73 percent. Now it’s 77 percent – that’s the figure that came up in the debate.
Q: Why do women earn less?
Blau: There are two broad sets of factors: the first is human capital and the factors that contribute to productivity and the second is discrimination in the labor market. Women have traditionally been less well qualified than men. The biggest reason here is the experience gap between men and women. Traditionally, women moved in and out of the labor force, and that lowered their wages relative to men.
But when we do elaborate studies – my recent study with Lawrence Kahn in 2006, for example – we find that when we take all those productivity factors into account we can’t fully explain the pay gap. The unexplained portion is fairly substantial and is possibly due to discrimination, though it could be various types of unmeasured factors. So in the 1998 data used in our 2006 article, women were making 20 percent less than men per hour. When we take human capital into account, that figure falls to 19 percent. When we add controls for occupation and industry – men and women tend to be in different occupations and industries – we can get a pay gap of 9 percent. This unexplained gap of 9 percent is potentially due to discrimination in the workplace. …Learn More
July 31, 2012
Student Loan Prevention: Part 2
Last week, Squared Away published the first five of 10 strategies to help parents and their college-bound kids limit their borrowing through student loans. As promised, readers can find the remaining five ideas below.
On a complexity scale, finding a college is comparable to buying a house, and some of these debt-cutting strategies are extremely difficult to put into practice. In addition to the financial challenges involved, the emotional aspects of parent-child dynamics and the college application process are daunting.
But the soaring cost of an undergraduate education has made student debt prevention a top priority for most families. Here’s more help from college financial advisers.
Deborah Fox of Fox College Funding LLC in San Diego said the days of majoring in English, philosophy or history are over – or should be. Given the financial pressures of college, she said, students can’t afford to “just study what’s interesting to you.” When weighing future earnings for graduates with such majors, the numbers just don’t add up, especially if the English degree is from a high-cost institution like Columbia University (high cost among private colleges) or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (expensive for in-state students).
Fox asks her clients to identify skills the college-bound teenager is good at. When entering college, they should already have a handful of potential occupations in mind. Then they can focus on relevant internships, jobs, courses and life skills that will help them get a job when they graduate – and begin paying back their loans. Freshmen should immediately begin testing their theories about the work they’ll want to do – “possibilities they could get excited about,” she said. She tells clients’ kids to “start exploring them immediately, shadow [people in their field], take someone out for coffee. Find out what is the day-to-day work like.” …Learn More
July 26, 2012
Student Loan Prevention: Part 1
It’s panic time! College-bound teenagers and their parents are excitedly touring colleges this summer, or they’re signing the dreaded Stafford loan documents to pay for college in the fall.
One thing is crystal clear in the emotional fog of this exhilarating rite of passage: parents and their teenagers both need to get serious about limiting their dependence on student loans. Squared Away asked several experts on financing a college education for their best tips on minimizing total borrowing for college.
Some of their debt-cutting strategies are difficult to swallow. But since 2005, student loans have shot up 55 percent, to $24,301 per student, for an undergraduate degree that has, as one financial adviser noted, become “ubiquitous.” Yet college places an unprecedented financial burden on parents also saving for retirement and on graduates when they get their first full-time jobs. Debt prevention also requires families to face head-on the emotional roadblocks to an affordable education.
Squared Away came up with 10 debt-prevention strategies. Here are the first five ideas, with five more scheduled for next Tuesday. Links to Web resources are also sprinkled throughout the article.
- Aid Deadlines Are Crucial
Buy a calendar and red marker and closely track every single deadline for merit or need-based aid – they’re different for each college under consideration.
“If I could give you one piece of advice that would be it,” said Lyssa Thaden, a financial education manager for American Student Assistance, which educates and counsels student-loan borrowers.
Thaden listed four common mistakes that cost parents dearly, requiring them to borrow more: …Learn More
June 28, 2012
Edited Volume of Research – and More
Resources that may interest Squared Away readers keep coming over the transom. Check out new federal guidelines on what to ask a financial adviser or broker, an edited volume of academic research on financial literacy and behavior, iPhone investment apps, or a summer financial thriller.
On Interviewing Financial Advisers:
Is hiring a financial adviser or broker daunting? How do you know you can trust him or her? These are complex issues, but the U.S. Department of Labor has just released a list of questions that provide a good start to your search. And click here for more such questions, based on research by Boston University law professor Tamar Frankel.
On Financial Behavior Research:
Douglas Lamdin, an economics professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, compiled an edited volume of research papers about financial education and behavior, “Consumer Knowledge and Financial Decisions.” The table of contents sorts issues by age groups, starting with “Cognitive Development and Children’s Understanding of Personal Finance” and ending with “Financial Preparedness for Long-Term care Needs in Old Age.” …Learn More