September 29, 2020
How High School Finance Courses Fail
In more than 30 states, completing a personal finance course is required for a high school degree.
The requirement started gaining traction around the country in 2005, despite the long-running debate about whether the courses even work.
A new study gets at whether high school instruction is effective by asking a fresh question: do the finance classes make people feel better about their situation – and feeling better about one’s finances is an indication things are, in fact, improving.
This departs from past studies focused on objective measures like credit scores and past-due loans.
The researchers find that high school courses have generally been a positive development: adults who grew up in states that require the courses do, in fact, feel better about their finances compared to people from states lacking a requirement.
But what’s interesting in this study is that a group of disadvantaged Americans feel worse off for having taken the courses: high school graduates who didn’t go on to college. Rather than helping them manage their financial challenges, the classes are only making things worse.
Before examining the reason for this, consider how the researchers measured the feeling of well-being. They used recent data from a series of questions asked by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation: Do you feel you have control over your money? Could you afford an unexpected expense? Do you have a sense of achieving your financial goals?
Most important, FINRA asked, do you have the financial “freedom to make choices that allow a person to enjoy life”? FINRA’s survey was conducted in 2018, but this question is relevant in the COVID-19 recession. Enjoying life is essentially the flip side of having financial stress, which is currently very high among low-income workers without college degrees.
The researchers argue that adults with no more than a high school diploma who’d taken the personal finance classes feel worse, because the classes delivered a “harsh dose of reality” that can “make economically vulnerable people more aware of their precarious financial situation.” …Learn More
September 22, 2020
More Gen-Zers are Living with Parents
When Millennials’ unemployment rate spiked during the Great Recession, millions of them alleviated their financial problems by moving in with their parents.
Now the coronavirus is chasing Generation Z back home.
Some 2.6 million adults, ages 18 to 29, who had been living on their own moved back home between February and July, the Pew Research Center reports. This pushed up the share of young adults living with one or both parents to 52 percent, which exceeds the rate reached during the Great Depression.
Pew’s analysis included some Millennials. But members of the younger Generation Z account for the vast majority – more than 2 million – of the young adults who’ve returned to the financial security of their parents’ homes this year. [This count does not include college students who came home and attended classes remotely after their schools shut down last spring.]
As was the case for Millennials, what sent Gen-Z back home was a sharp rise in their unemployment rate, Pew said. For example, the rate for people in their early 20s has more than doubled this year to 14.1 percent.
No age group escapes the impact of a recession. The current downturn is the second in a decade for baby boomers, who have faced these major setbacks just as they are trying to square away their finances for retirement.
Losing a job and financial independence as a young adult also has long-term consequences. … Learn More
September 22, 2020
Isolation May Worsen Impact of Disability
A danger for working-age people with disabilities is that they become socially isolated, which can cause a further deterioration in their health and ability to function.
A good example of this vicious cycle is people with severe arthritis. If joint pain makes walking more difficult, it can limit one’s ability to do things with friends or be out in public, which means more social isolation and less exercise to ease the pain’s disabling effects.
A new Mathematica study connects this phenomenon to the sharp rise in the share of Social Security disability awards going to people with arthritis, back pain, and other musculoskeletal conditions.
Between 1997 and 2017, there was a slight increase, to 13.4 percent, in the share of Americans with musculoskeletal conditions who reported being socially isolated, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
Discomfort in social settings is also present in the general population – but at about half the rate, or 6 percent of adults.
Another contributor to social isolation is cognitive impairment, which includes confusion and poor memory. Cognitive impairments are also on the rise among people with arthritis and related conditions. The increase can’t solely be attributed to the aging of the U.S. population either, because the analysis controlled for age in order to eliminate its effects.
To understand the role of social isolation in disability, the researchers point to the vicious cycle between the two.
“Whether social isolation is exacerbating disability or disability is exacerbating social isolation,” they said, “the contributing limitations are risk factors” that will worsen a disability that already exists. …Learn More
September 17, 2020
2020 Disability Blogs Tackle Myriad Issues
Squared Away has featured numerous articles this year – the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – about the challenges that people with disabilities must deal with.
One in four adults in this country has some type of disability. What becomes clear when looking back at this collection of articles is the importance of ensuring that those who are capable of working get the support they need to overcome their unique challenges.
Employment rates, which are lower for people with disabilities, can be improved greatly if they receive support. One recent blog examined a program to assist people with severe intellectual or learning disabilities. The federal-state Vocational Rehabilitation program supplies coaches who help their clients find appropriate work and then smooth the bumps in the employer-employee relationship.
Another program that provides day care to children with disabilities has been effective in keeping their mothers – often single, low-income workers – in the labor force.
The logistical barriers to working are inherently higher for people with disabilities. Yet they are more likely than others to hold low-paying jobs with just-in-time scheduling or shifts that aren’t the same from week to week, according to research covered in an August blog. Imagine arranging special transportation or child care to accommodate these unpredictable schedules.
Economic factors also affect whether people find work or wind up on Social Security disability insurance. Amid the COVID-19 recession, researchers are concerned about the long-term impact of workers with disabilities losing their jobs. During the Great Recession, applications for Social Security disability benefits surged. Once people apply for disability benefits, the odds of ever going back to work decline.
Recessions are also an obstacle for people from low-income families trying to move up the economic ladder. Yet a researcher found that if they can manage to earn more than their parents, they will have more success staying off the disability rolls. One big reason: workers with good jobs and higher incomes are healthier because they can afford better medical care.
Our disability blogs cover research being funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration, which also supports this blog. Here is the complete list of the 2020 headlines:
Same Disability: Some Have Tougher Jobs
Same Arthritis but Some Feel More Pain
Disabilities and the Toll of Irregular Hours
Economy: …Learn More
September 15, 2020
Deep Financial Woes Portend Rent Crisis
The economy shows some signs of improving. More than 1 million people went back to work last month, pushing the unemployment rate down to 8.4 percent.
But housing experts say a sure sign of trouble ahead is the crisis unfolding among the third of U.S. households who are renters. Things can only get worse for them, because so many were already vulnerable prior to the pandemic after many consecutive years of rising rents that strained their budgets.
Prior to the pandemic, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that more than 40 percent of U.S. renters paid more than 50 percent of their incomes for rent – far more than is affordable for most workers. And these rent-burdened households aren’t confined to the lower-income brackets; they extend into the middle class.
The end of the federal government’s $600 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits in July will increasingly strain renters too, said Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a researcher at the center.
COVID-19 and the resulting recession “is piling on top of an existing affordability crisis,” she said.
This gloomy assessment is backed by other evidence that residents of the four largest metropolitan areas – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston – are running out of resources and face “serious financial problems,” warns a report by NPR and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Over a third of the households in these four cities have already plowed through most or all of their savings to cover rent, mortgages, credit card bills and necessities, raising concerns they will not be able to “weather long-term financial and health effects of the coronavirus outbreak.” The situation is particularly bad for low-income families. …Learn More
September 10, 2020
Why the Mix of Disabilities is Changing
The mix of disabilities for people receiving federal disability insurance has changed in important ways that often reflect trends in the health of the population as a whole.
Two disabling conditions that have become a growing share of Social Security’s benefit awards in recent decades are mood disorders and various musculoskeletal problems, which include arthritis and back pain.
First, consider mood disorders. They range from depression and bipolar disorder to irritability and seasonal affective disorder, and they can hamper someone’s ability to work. Mirroring the rising share of awards for mood disorders, their prevalence in the population has edged up from 54.6 percent of adults in 1997 to 56.2 percent in 2017, according to a study by Mathematica, a research organization.
Second, disability awards to people with musculoskeletal problems like arthritis and back pain have increased dramatically. These conditions are often aggravated by carrying excess weight, so the rise in cases aligns with the researchers’ estimate that the adult obesity rate has surged from about 20 percent to 31 percent.
But a related finding about musculoskeletal conditions is more difficult to explain. Despite the growth in disability awards involving these conditions, the share of the population afflicted by them – about a third – hasn’t changed much, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The researchers found one clue to this apparent contradiction in a separate analysis indicating that this population’s ability to work may be deteriorating over time. …Learn More
September 8, 2020
A Laid-off Boomer’s Retirement Plan 2.0
Jennifer Lee wanted to work until 70 to max out her monthly Social Security checks – at least that was the plan before she was laid off three years ago from a Washington D.C. church.
The church’s newly hired pastor “decided he wanted a whole new staff,” she said. “I felt to a degree he was entitled to do that,” she said – except that “he was only eliminating people on the staff who were over 60.”
She wasn’t having any luck finding a new job and felt that her only choice was to sign up for Social Security at 63½ to pay her bills. Eventually, Lee, a one-time nurse and medical administrator, landed a nice part-time job as a Jack-of-all-trades in an oral surgeon’s office. Post-pandemic, her duties have expanded to include overseeing the COVID-19 safety protocols.
The recession is putting many baby boomers in a predicament similar to Lee’s: a layoff has derailed their plans to work full-time to build up their retirement savings. Since March, the unemployment rate for Americans who are at least 55 years old has more than tripled, to 9.7 percent in June.
“Most older people, when they’re laid off, will take Social Security right away,” but “that’s not their best short-term solution,” said Wendy Weiss, a Cambridge, Mass., financial adviser. She urges them to find other ways to generate income or reduce expenses, because delaying Social Security increases the monthly check by 7 percent to 8 percent for each additional year the benefits are postponed.
But, Weiss acknowledges, the recession is putting growing numbers of unemployed boomers in situations that aren’t easily solved. “It’s not going to be pretty,” she said about the next few years.
Lee, who is 65, was fully aware she should have postponed her Social Security. But it took her more than six months to find her current job, and she didn’t have any unemployment benefits to tide her over, because church employers don’t usually pay into state unemployment insurance funds. She wasn’t old enough for Medicare at the time of her 2017 layoff either.
“I waited five months to apply for Social Security. I waited as long as I could,” she said.
She sees a problem not in the difficult decisions she’s had to make but in a shortage of policies for older workers like herself, who may be more vulnerable to layoffs and also can have a tougher time finding a new job even in an expanding economy. …Learn More