As the global economic recovery continues to lose momentum, the issue of financial literacy is becoming increasingly prevalent. This has already prompted political leaders in the United Kingdom and Australia to propose mandatory financial education for students, while the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in the United States has made numerous recommendations concerning the advancement of fiscal literacy within independent states. Providing a comprehensive financial education to youngsters represents a significant responsibility; however, it is a duty that cannot be carried by schools and local authorities alone.
The Link Between Financial Literacy and Economic Growth
To understand the importance of financial literacy, it is important to consider the recent economic crisis that has engulfed the world. Essentially the result of irresponsible lending and reckless investment, the crisis showcased how poor financial decision-making impacts citizens, business owners and political leaders alike. While banks and lending institutions may have accepted considerable criticism for their role in triggering the recession, it is important to remember that millions of consumers were also willing to enter into poorly thought out and unmanageable financial agreements.
Further support for the importance of financial literacy can also be found in household debt levels from the last five years. Cumulative consumer debt reached its peak of $12.68 trillion at the height of the global recession during the third quarter of 2008, while it has continued to fall as the economy has showed tentative signs of growth. Totaling $11.23 million during the first quarter of 2013, its decline shows that decreased borrowing and more considered financial decision-making has resulted in a more prosperous economy.
So when it comes to economic growth, it is clear that the fiscal decisions that we make as individuals have a tangible impact on the overall economy. Joint research products between the George Washington University School and the University of Pennsylvania have sought to provide more context to this theory by evaluating how low levels of financial literacy lead directly to money-losing decisions and transactions. The results reveal considerable gaps in consumer knowledge concerning pension accounts, credit agreements and the impact of interest rates, which can now be measured in dollars and cents and afford a monetary value to the importance of financial literacy.
Who Should Shoulder the Burden for Imparting Financial Education?
As education remains a matter for the local authority in each state, it is unlikely that the U.S. will see mandatory reforms implemented at a federal level. Despite this, however, there is a common consensus among political leaders that dictates that financial education will be a universal feature of the K-12 curriculum by the end of 2014. While this will make local schools and government bodies primarily responsible for teaching financial literacy nationwide, it is also important to appraise the role of parents and established fiscal institutions.
In general terms, parents and schools must collaborate to deliver a comprehensive education to their children. While parents are charged with cultivating positive behavioral patterns and imparting fundamental values, it is the role of educational authorities to teach academic skills and subject matter. There is an imbalance when it comes to financial literacy, as the current generation of adults are hindered by a distinct lack of money management skills. According to a recent Consumer Financial Literacy survey conducted in 2012, just 59% of adult respondents had savings, while approximately one in four continued to spend outside of their means.
This skills gap is a vast and obvious one, and it has prompted both local authorities and banking organizations to drive financial literacy themselves. In fact, the American Bankers Association has been a keen supporter of financial education since 1997, when it introduced the innovative "Teach Children to Save" program as a way of emphasizing the importance of saving money. While these efforts and recent work by the CFPB have partially offset the lack of parental knowledge, guardians cannot ignore the importance of financial literacy and must instead be encouraged to support a detailed program of education.
The Bottom Line
The need for a concerted program of financial education cannot be ignored, and even though many parents are ill-equipped to lead the charge, they can at least support the efforts of state schools and banking institutions. They certainly cannot afford to adopt the same approach as parents during Chef Jamie Oliver's drive to introduce healthy and nutritional school dinners in the U.K., as thousands allowed their ignorance and lack of knowledge to compromise an extremely beneficial government initiative. By understanding their own shortcomings when it comes to financial literacy and welcoming the local governments' attempts to redress this considerable imbalance, parents can still play a proactive role in creating an entire generation of responsible adults.