Viewpoint: Financial literacy is essential for everyone


Dear Editor:

As we move deeper into 2019 and the previous year’s W-2s arrive, I’m reminded of a meme that went viral a few years back. It said: I’m so glad that I took geometry when parallelogram season rolls around. I got a kick out of it, but I also realized it perfectly and insightfully encapsulated a major issue facing this country: Americans struggle to understand and apply basic principles of personal finance.

While so many of us started the new year setting resolutions focusing on physical fitness, it’s an opportune time to instead talk about financial fitness- a conversation that most of us didn’t have in high school. It’s well-documented that Americans have trouble comprehending finance.

Financial illiteracy, or even confusion, is a pervasive issue that doesn’t discriminate based on income, age, or station in life; it affects everyone.

At Catholic Charities, I work with vulnerable populations including the homeless, survivors of domestic violence, and refugees among many others. Many of these clients face the challenging task of rebuilding their lives, having to focus on the bare necessities- food, shelter, and employment. The idea of learning personal finance is a foreign concept- or considered a luxury in some cases, one that is incorrectly viewed as only reserved for people planning for college or retirement. In reality, everyone needs to plan for the future, whatever it looks like. It’s the difference between building a house on a concrete foundation rather than quicksand.

Catholic Charities Financial Stability Network does offer free education and support to anyone (regardless of circumstance or religion) motivated to improve their financial future.  I think it’s important for everyone to become empowered to take control of their financial responsibilities and be prepared to take the next steps to improve their lives.

Did you know that only five states require high schools to teach personal finance as part of their curriculum as of 2018?  This is a conversation that must continue, and a complicated issue that needs to be tackled from an early age to help prevent cycles of poverty or financial stagnation. It’s my hope that more states will follow suit so that we no longer find the irony in that meme.

Thanks – and good luck with those taxes!

Monsignor John Enzler, CEO Catholic Charities, DC