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Why JA? And Why Now? Financial Literacy as a Foundation for a Better Life

The Impact of Financial Insecurity

Family holding a piggy bank
Family holding a piggy bank

Image caption: Family holding a piggy bank.

Nearly a third of Americans (29%) say they lack savings to cover one month’s expenses.[1] With inflation near a 40-year high, 56 percent of Americans report that rising prices are causing financial hardship.[2] Even before recent cost increases, 40 percent of Americans said they struggled to pay for healthcare and food, including households making more than $ 50,000 a year.[3]

 

While real earnings have remained flat or declined for many U.S. workers in recent years,[4] even those considered “high-income earners” have struggled to pay bills,[5] save for retirement, and be prepared for financial emergencies, according to a report by NPR.

 

Though real wages not keeping pace with the cost of living is an ongoing challenge facing too many U.S. households, research shows that only a third of Americans understand interest rates, mortgages, or financial risk.[6] In fact, 4 out of 5 workers admit to being financially stressed,[7] which may contribute to the severity of illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.[8]

 

Even if people have limited means, a better understanding of how money works and how one can use budgeting, cost management, and credit as a tool can help lead to better financial outcomes, which can contribute to a greater quality of life and financial wellness.

Image caption: A women concerned about her bills.

A Lack of Literacy Impacts Capability

According to research by the Milken Institute, 57 percent of adults in the U.S. are financially illiterate.[1] Additionally, the problem appears to be growing as Generation Z scores worse than other generations on financial literacy tests.[2]

While a recent survey shows that 80 percent of American adults wish they had a financial literacy course in school,[3] about 25 percent of current high school students have access to one of these programs.[4]

However, mandated or required financial literacy courses are often available for only one semester in later grades and focus on knowledge gain only. They may not impact the attitudinal perceptions that are necessary to foster intentionality resulting in the behavior change needed to transform financial literacy lessons into the financial capability of the student.[5]

Junior Achievement: A Pathway to “The Other Literacy”

At Junior Achievement, we view financial literacy as “the other literacy.” Just like reading or writing, we all deal with money on a near daily basis. Yet too often, financial literacy programs consist only of a one-semester elective course in middle or high school that skims the surface of basic concepts. Nobody would be expected to read a book or write a term paper after one semester of lessons on reading or writing, yet that’s essentially what happens with financial literacy education.

 

Junior Achievement employs a pathways approach to teaching financial literacy to young people. By “pathways,” we mean that JA programs are designed to engage students on the subject over multiple grades, from their first days in kindergarten, throughout their K-12 years, preparing them for the transition to post-secondary education or work.

Image caption: A happy family buying groceries.

What the Research Says

Our approach gives students the tools to increase their chances of achieving economic security as adults. Research results[1] include:

 

  • 82 percent of Junior Achievement alumni agree they have a strong financial footing.
  • 84 percent of JA Alumni agree that their Junior Achievement experience helped with their financial literacy.
  • 68 percent of JA Alumni between the ages of 18 and 29 say they are financially independent of their parents. According to the Pew Research Center, 34 percent of Americans in that age range say the same.[2]
  • The average age JA Alumni report paying off student loans is 30.
  • JA Alumni report purchasing their first home at 29. The National Association of Realtors reports the average age Americans purchase their first home is 33.[3]

 

The research also shows that JA alumni are more likely to finish college, find a satisfying job or career, and start a business. To learn more about Junior Achievement, visit www.JA.org.

 

[1] Morning Consult, January 2022

[2] Gallup, August 2022

[3] NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, et al, October 2021

[4] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2022

[5] “Paycheck-to-Paycheck Nation,” NPR, December 16, 2020

[6] National Study, FINRA, July 18, 2022

[7] “Financial Education for Today’s Workforce,” International Foundation of Employee Benefits, 2016

[8] “Stress in America,” American Psychological Association, February 4, 2015

[9] “This is Why Americans Can’t Manage Their Money,” CNBC, April 8, 2022

[10] The 2021 TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index

[11] "88% of adults support requiring personal finance education in high school, survey finds," CNBC, April 27, 2022

[12] "Nearly 1 in 4 students in the U.Ss has access to personal finance education this year," CNBC, April 22, 2022

[13] “Junior Achievement’s Approach to Evaluation,” Junior Achievement USA, 2016

[14] Ipsos/Junior Achievement Alumni Survey, August 2022

[15] Pew Research Center, October 23, 2019

[16] National Association of Realtors, March 2021

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