Luck – or a Deliberate Path to Wealth

wealth by education chartIt’s usually not talent or street smarts or brains that make people wealthy and comfortable. It’s the luck of having rich parents.

But there is another way to get there, one that is within reach: becoming the first generation in the family to earn a college degree.

A new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, using the latest federal data on household finances, measures the impact of having that degree – or not having one – on wealth and income.

Although the ranks of college-educated Americans have grown over the past quarter century, people lacking a degree still make up a substantial majority – two out of three Americans. …Learn More

optimism

Be Optimistic. You Might Live Longer!

People who have a college education are known to live longer. But could a sunny disposition also help?

Yes, say two researchers, who found that the most optimistic people – levels 4 and 5 on a 5-point optimism scale – live longer than the pessimists.

But this effect works both ways. The biggest declines in optimism have occurred among older generations of Americans who didn’t complete high school at a time when this was far more common. It’s no coincidence, their study concluded, that the white Americans in this less-educated group in particular are also “driving premature mortality trends today.”

The finding adds new perspective to a 2015 study that rocked the economics profession. Two Princeton professors found that, despite improving life expectancy for the nation as a whole, death rates increased for a roughly similar group: white, middle-aged Americans – ages 45-54 – with no more than a high school degree. They suggest that addiction and suicide play some role, both of which have something to do with the deterioration in the manufacturing industry that once provided a good living, especially for white men.

To make the link between mortality and optimism, Kelsey O’Connor at STATEC Research in Luxembourg and Carol Graham at the Brookings Institution examined whether heads of households surveyed back in 1968 through 1975 were still alive four to five decades later. They controlled for demographic characteristics and socioeconomic factors, such as education, which also affect longevity. …Learn More

First-Generation ‘Imposter Syndrome’

Education is the fastest ticket to a higher income, more opportunities, and a better quality of life. But four-year college is often a tough road for the pioneering first in their families to attend.

They have at least two big disadvantages – apart from the well-known financial one.  Unlike the teenagers of the highly educated professionals who usually take for granted that their children will go to college, first-generation students might not have the benefit of high expectations at home. College is outside their comfort zone, which creates psychological barriers to attending and succeeding.

A second disadvantage is that they aren’t always going to learn, through a sort of parental osmosis, to cope with higher education’s mores and attitudes or be as resilient to its challenges.

UCLA student Violet Salazar says in this video that she used to feel she didn’t fully belong, “because I am first generation or because I am Latina, and also coming from a low socioeconomic background.” She went on to organize an entire dormitory floor specifically for first-generation students to make them feel more at home. …Learn More

Medicaid Now Critical to Aging Workers

For decades, the Medicaid program has subsidized health care for the poor, including retirees.

Yet, until recently, it largely excluded most working-age adults without disabilities due to a strict monthly income limit.

medicaid logoAll that changed in the 32 states and the District of Columbia that accepted the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) option to expand their Medicaid coverage to low-income working people.

In 2010, the ACA increased Medicaid’s income limits for people to qualify for the insurance. Today, working baby boomers, as well as younger workers, can qualify if their income is below 138% of federal poverty levels – or $1,396 per month for a single person and $1,892 for couples.

This joint federal-state program now completely or partially insures about one in six people approaching retirement age, according to a new report citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

The expansion is at least partly responsible for a striking improvement in one statistic: the uninsured rate for adults between ages 50 and 64 fell from 15.5 percent in 2012 to 9.1 percent in 2016. …Learn More

SNL’s Kate McKinnon and Kids on Money

Kate McKinnon has made a name as a comedienne with her wild and weird humor on “Saturday Night Live.” But she plays straight man to the kids she interviews about money.

This video, produced by the best-selling personal finance author, Beth Kobliner, is an effort to have some fun while improving financial literacy – an effort that seems aimed more at adults than children.

Justine, Ricky, and Jillian are the sugar that makes Kobliner’s sober advice about saving, jobs, debt, and credit cards more palatable – and this strategy just might be effective.

Watch for yourself.

Learn More

Public Pension Cuts Hit Recruitment

West Virginia teachers started the wave of strikes over pay.
Photo courtesy of Janet Bass, American Federation of Teachers

Teachers’ strikes and walkouts over inadequate pay – in Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia – are making news this spring. In Oklahoma, half the people who’ve left teaching recently said pay was their top reason for moving on.

A wave of reductions in another significant form of compensation – pensions – also appear to be making state and local governments a less appealing place to work, according to researchers Laura Quinby, Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, and Jean-Pierre Aubry at the Center for Retirement Research, which publishes this blog.

Pensions have traditionally been the great equalizer for governments trying to recruit people from the higher-paying private sector. But benefit cuts, which had been fairly uncommon, gained momentum after the 2008 stock market crash that battered pension funds’ already declining finances.

The pace of cost-cutting reforms peaked in 2011, when 134 state and local government plans made some type of cuts that year. They run the gamut from increasing the tenure requirement or retirement age applied to new employees’ future pensions to trimming the cost-of-living adjustment on all pensions. …Learn More

slot machine

Squared Away at Year 7

Seven years ago this month, this personal finance and retirement blog debuted. How things have changed.

For one thing, back in 2011, a lot more people were reading blogs and newspapers on their clunky desktop computers. In recognition of the now-ubiquitous smart phone – more accurately, a computer that happens to have a phone – we just redesigned how Squared Away looks on phones to enlarge the type and make the articles easier to read.  Our older readers will appreciate this update.

Year 7 is also an opportunity to restate the blog’s mission, which, frankly, was not fully refined in the early years.  In some ways, our mission has not changed: we continue to emphasize retirement security and personal finance, with a bent toward the evidence-based research that provides a clearer understanding of the financial, economic, and behavioral issues that are critical to a high quality of life.

We regularly report on research by scholars around the country, including studies produced by members of the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Retirement Research Consortium: the NBER Retirement Research Center in Cambridge, Mass., the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which also is the blog’s home.

But it’s natural for a new publication to find its sweet spot over time, and Squared Away is no different. One theme that has emerged very clearly is that the threads of retirement saving are shot through the fabric of our financial lives.

The predicament of Millennials is an obvious example. Immediately after beginning their careers, 20- and 30-somethings – so much more than their parents and grandparents – are under the gun to save for retirements that no longer are likely to include a pension. …Learn More