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Past and Present: Financial Literacy

401(K) 2013 / Flickr / Creative Commons

Since the end of World War II, the cornerstone of the U.S. economy has been consumer spending.

Factors that have contributed to this reality include individual citizens’ relatively easy access to credit, and television’s growth as a medium to continually market a vast array of goods and services to a mass audience.

American consumers’ longstanding ability to get goods and services now, and actually pay for them later, has, on the surface, appeared to democratize this process. Today, for example, most Americans, regardless of income level, have access to such commodities as flat-screen televisions and smartphones.

Yet, credit-based consumer spending can have negative consequences, especially for individuals with limited financial literacy. We all can sadly remember how uninformed minority consumers were taken advantage of during the sub-prime mortgage scandal associated with the 2008 financial meltdown.

One local organization, the Youth Empowerment Educational Program, a non-profit entity also known by its initials Y.E.E.P., has developed a series of innovative programs to promote financial literacy.

Elementary age children are initially introduced to the Y.E.E.P. program through a cartoon character, the superhero “Mr. Cool Money,” whose motto is “Saving Money Is The Cool Thing To Do.”

As students move into middle school, the Y.E.E.P. introduces them to financial institutions.

High school participants in the Y.E.E.P. program are encouraged to contribute to Teenview Magazine, which, besides providing young people the opportunity to develop useful skills, features content that reinforces the importance of saving and budgeting.

Finally, Y.E.E.P. has an initiative called the “Family Achievement Chart System” where individual families work together to achieve financial goals through delayed gratification, goal-setting and saving.

In sum, Wichita’s Youth Empowerment Educational Program is an important local initiative seeks to solve historical and contemporary problems related to financial literacy.

Robert E. Weems Jr. is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University.