I grew up poor. Although society may try to label me as underprivileged, I wouldn’t say that I was. Due to the generosity of family members and friends — and my own personal gumption — I lived a life that, externally, wasn’t unlike that of my more well-off friends.
Until you saw our house, our car, or our bank accounts, you wouldn’t have thought anything of our financial situation.
I grew up in a single-parent household. My mom raised my two younger sisters and me by herself. She didn’t pursue a four-year degree after high school. On top of that, she never had any sort of financial education.
Too Few Financial Literacy Programs
Offering financial literacy courses in public schools is not a new idea. The High School Financial Planning Program has provided financial literacy course materials for thousands of U.S. high schools since the ’80s.
This is great, but with more than 26,727 public and private secondary schools in the United States, according to information collected by the nonprofit EducationData, the number of schools with financial education is still abysmally low.
Self-Taught Financial Literacy
My home state of Kentucky is one of the many states that didn’t require financial literacy courses while I was in high school. Thankfully, Kentucky has since jumped on the bandwagon, now requiring a personal finance course to be offered to high schoolers.
Seeing how difficult it was for my mom to create a budget and manage her finances inspired me to teach myself those skills.
I was fortunate enough to develop a knack for money management during my teenage years. But many of my friends didn’t. I had to pick up where my school was lacking and teach them the basics of financial literacy.
We discussed the basics of bank accounts, credit cards, and interest. I did the same for my mother. I taught her how to rebuild her credit, helped her open her first checking account in years, and got her back onto a financial track that would, at least, improve her chances of not being broke.
Why We Need Financial Literacy Programs for the Poor
All things considered, I think my family would be in a better financial position had my mother received financial education in high school. That knowledge could have helped drive the monetary decisions that she made — as it should do.
Though the role of financial literacy in class mobility is contested, there are financial professionals who agree with me.
“Many lower- and middle-class individuals do not understand the massive negative ramifications of payday loans, credit card debt, and defaulting on obligations,” says investment advisor Gabriel Pincus. “A course in financial literacy offered for free by communities could potentially deliver amazing benefits to their constituents.”
More education and knowledge about your situation is always a useful tool to counteract the forces working against you, and in this case, it could save you from poverty.
However, some tend to disagree that financial literacy is enough to truly combat the hardships of people living in poverty.
“Financial literacy and information is important, but information without resources is ineffective,” says Eboni N. Moss, a CPA and owner of The Master Resource, LLC.
“Institutional issues that need to be addressed to assist in financial health and well-being are things like housing, healthcare, predatory companies, and access to jobs that provide a living wage.”
We’ve compiled a list of organizations across the country that provide low-income residents with financial resources:
National: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation offers games, podcasts, guides and savings-related resources for people of all ages.
Chicago: Heartland Alliance provides safety, health, job training, and economic opportunity programs to help residents move out of poverty.
Washington, DC: Prosperity Now works to expand homeownership in low-income communities.
Bay Area, California: Mission Asset Fund offers credit-building loans, business, and immigration programs for hardworking families.
Atlanta: Access to Capital for Entrepreneur assists local residents by creating job opportunities and providing loans for under-served populations.
New York City: Qualitas of Life Foundation provides financial education for Hispanic residents in an effort to improve their quality of life.
Austin, Texas: Foundation Communities offers affordable housing and free support services to thousands of families.
Los Angeles: Rise Financial Pathways supports the community through business loans, programs and lending opportunities.
Denver: The Denver Foundation funds a variety of opportunities for low-income people across the state of Colorado.
Phoenix: Dignity Kids educates youth groups through fitness and STEM-related programs.
So, do financial literacy programs actually work? Do they make a difference for families and individuals in our country?
Students required to take courses in personal finance are more likely to apply for aids and grants, have a decreased chance of building up credit card debt, and overall, make more informed financial decisions, according to a study from Montana State University.
That said, it’s unclear if these required educational programs are enough for extremely under-served communities.
Financial literacy had a positive impact on people’s economic welfare, but not significantly enough to solve the problem of income inequality, research from the Asian Development Bank Institute found.
The think tank also found that providing education for groups of women, people in rural areas, and those least educated had the greatest impact on reducing poverty.
The Bottom Line
Putting all of this information together helps us have a greater understanding of the full potential of financial literacy.
Although there is still a considerable need for long-term, institutional improvements, education matters. It seems that once folks have some sort of stability in relation to their money, there are great possibilities in furthering their financial success through educational curriculum, resources and guidance.
I was lucky enough to have a knack for finances as well as friends and family who supported my mom and me during tough economic times. I can’t help but wonder how my upbringing would have been different had my mom been given the chance to learn more about banking and economics.
Now, with a total of 21 states requiring financial literacy courses in schools, I have hope that awareness is spreading, and other families will be able to benefit from the fruits of financial education.