Improving financial literacy for future generations
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There is no shortage of statistics that point to the growing financial troubles Americans face across the country, but millennials are struggling more than most. As the next generation poised to shape the national and global economy, their challenges cannot be ignored.

Research shows that the gap between the amount of financial responsibility given to young Americans and their demonstrated ability to manage financial decisions is widening at a rapid rate. Three out of four millennials recently surveyed by The George Washington University’s Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center were not able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of financial literacy. More than two-thirds reported they owed some form of long-term debt, while only 32 percent had three months of their household expenses set aside for emergencies.

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As state treasurers who are on the frontline of these issues, we are deeply concerned about these findings. An individual’s ability to budget, save and invest is directly linked to our prosperity as a country. This is why during April’s Financial Literacy Month, we have focused on empowering individuals at all age levels— including millennials—with the resources they need to improve their financial wellbeing.

Throughout the country, state treasurers have helped launch a number of programs and initiatives to help individuals make the best use of their financial resources. Through partnering with the private sector— which has a vested interest in ensuring individuals are financially savvy— state and local governments are developing easily accessible tools to help educate and improve the country’s overall financial literacy. These tools include free online resources that help individuals better understand the basics of personal finance, banking and retirement savings.

A growing number of young adults are also turning to alternative financial services such as payday loans and check cashing services because they are easily accessible. But many state treasurers are working with local banks and credit unions to ensure that all individuals have access to affordable banking services, and to raise awareness about the importance of saving, investing and managing debt. Stronger public-private partnerships can help support new financial literacy programs and promote smart financial decisions.

In Oregon and Indiana, our offices have worked with the private sector to develop tools that help remove barriers to saving money through various programs and free online resources. Our fellow state treasurers in Vermont, Utah, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Mississippi are doing the same, while additional states have focused on partnering with the private sector to offer online courses that teach basic financial knowledge to students and parents in schools.

Understanding basic money management principles must begin at an early age, which is why many state treasurers have advocated for financial education courses to be part of the school curriculum, starting in elementary school. Studies show that American teenagers trail their peers in other advanced countries on basic measures of financial literacy according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Several states—including most recently, Kentucky— have passed legislation that make financial literacy courses a requirement for high school students. Many others are allocating funds specifically for schools to launch programs and events that teach financial skills and prepare students for day-to-day budgetary decisions that they will face as adults, such as saving for retirement, paying bills and more. Nebraska recently launched an innovative online financial literacy education program available to high school students and parents across the state.

Although April has been a time to promote financial education and empowerment, state treasurers are committed to partnering with the community leaders and private sector partners year round to raise the importance of financial literacy. We all have a role to play. Together, we can help prepare the next generation for the financial challenges they will face in the future.

Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read and Indiana State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell are Chair and Vice Chair of the National Association of State Treasurers’ Financial Education and Empowerment Committee.