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Financial literacy: A tool for equity

Interview with Leslie Jones, Youth Financial Education Analyst, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

June 01, 2020

computer and books on desk with appleFHI 360 has worked with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to expand the Youth Financial Education section of their website, which now includes nearly 200 activities for middle and high school students. Designed for educators and others who work with youth, these free activities explain the basics of financial literacy, such as budgeting and building healthy financial habits for adulthood. Activities for the elementary school level will be added this fall.

Below, we discuss the intersection between equity and financial literacy with Leslie Jones, a youth financial education analyst for CFPB.

Why is it important to focus on financial education at the K-12 level?
There are three building blocks to financial capability: 1) executive function; 2) financial habits and norms; and 3) financial knowledge and decision-making skills. If we start early, we can teach children how to have self-control and think before they act; how values, attitudes and beliefs about money can help them meet their financial goals; and how they can make the right decisions for their particular situations. Financial well-being is not about how much someone earns. It is about being able to make decisions about money that allow for peace of mind.

Can you describe how CFPB’s work promotes equity?
Because we are an agency of the federal government, all of our materials are free. Teachers, afterschool providers and others who work with youth can get our financial literacy materials without cost. It is equitable because it is accessible and can be used by a vast number of people.

Another way to promote equity is having materials that teachers can modify for students with different learning needs. The materials can be used in urban or rural communities. You can find examples about horseback riding, fishing or collecting eggs from a chicken coop. Because we took the time to write for those students means the teachers in those communities do not have to develop relevant examples and perhaps will be more inclined to teach the activity. We write our materials in plain language, with the theory that if you can read it and understand it, you can communicate it. That is so important for equity.

Any teacher can teach these activities. If you are a science teacher, you can teach financial literacy; if you are a physical education teacher, you can teach financial literacy. This is a big step toward equity, because if your school does not have a specific course on financial literacy, that does not mean your students cannot learn about it.

CFPB is breaking down myths. People think financial literacy is all about math, but it is so much more than math. Just because you are in an honors class does not mean you are going to know how to balance a checkbook. Just because you grew up in a family with money does not mean that you are going to be a good money manager. There are a lot of assumptions to dispel.

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the U.S. economy. What effect has that had on financial literacy and youth financial capability?
The pandemic is raising awareness about money and the economy. It is fortunate that the CFPB structure was in place during this crisis; we have helped people answer some of their questions about their finances. Now, and especially once the pandemic is over, our work in youth financial literacy is especially relevant. Youth need to learn these skills now more than ever as the country recovers.

How has FHI 360 supported CFPB’s equity work?
FHI 360 has been an essential partner in promoting equity. Their understanding of the subject matter, expertise in project management and flexibility in working with key partners have helped us to work on a large scale with young people learning to build their financial capability. The resources they have helped us to create are relevant and engaging to youth across America and help us introduce financial education to the many, not the few.

Photo credit: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau