Americans Want Financial Literacy ... Now!
Dear Readers: Today, I'd like to turn the tables and ask you a question: Let's say you could design a basic high school curriculum. Outside of core courses like science, math and English, how would you rank adding financial literacy as a requirement, compared with other topics such as health and wellness, career development, college planning, arts, music and sports?
This is just one of many questions that my team and I recently posed to thousands of Americans through a national poll. If you put financial literacy at the top of your list, you're in agreement with 63% of our respondents.
Let me back up a minute. We first fielded our poll in February with the goal of assessing the importance of financial education in today's world. Of course, at that time we had no idea of the health crisis that was about to upend just about every aspect of our lives.
Therefore, a few months later in June, concerned that the pandemic might change the results, we repeated several key questions. Somewhat to our surprise, the results stayed the same. Even in the midst of a global health crisis, the majority of Americans expressed the same sense of urgency for improved financial literacy, even prioritizing financial education over health and wellness education.
Looking deeper, we also asked our survey participants to reflect on their personal money habits, the role that financial literacy plays in society and their thoughts on how we can improve our national financial IQ. Let's take a closer look at what we learned -- and how we can use these insights to create a more financially secure future for all Americans.
Too Many Americans Are Living on the Edge
For me, the most unsettling finding in our survey was that half of our respondents said they would face financial hardship if they had to cover an emergency expense of $1,000 in the next 30 days (and one-third would struggle to come up with $500). This is consistent with previous studies, most notably one done in 2019 by the Federal Reserve.
As troubling as this sounds on the surface, the reality is even more serious. The implications of not being able to pay for an emergency -- from avoiding medical treatment to eviction or even having to drop out of school -- can be devastating and long-lasting.
Perhaps because of this acute vulnerability, the majority of our respondents also said they wished they had learned about the value of saving money at a younger age. If they could turn back the clock, they said they would also teach their younger selves basic money management, how to set and work toward financial goals, and how to invest.
When asked about the future, the majority believe that teaching the next generation personal finance basics will better prepare them to face the unexpected and have a positive impact for years to come.