How the Economy Affects Young People

Photo by Chris Li

These days I am constantly struck by how our current US economic challenges are affecting young people and their families.  Last week, the New York Times reported that after adjustments for inflation, the Federal Reserve reports that family net worth has dropped to the level of the 1990’s.

According to the article, “The Fed found that middle-class families had sustained the largest percentage losses in both wealth and income during the crisis, limiting their ability and willingness to spend.”

As I think about the type of students I spend the most time with, I was particularly struck by this finding:

Families with incomes in the middle 60 percent of the population lost a larger share of their wealth over the three-year period than the wealthiest and poorest families.  One basic reason for this disproportion is that the wealth of the middle class is mostly in housing, and the median amount of home equity dropped to $75,000 in 2010 from $110,000 in 2007.

I’m not at all trying to minimize the economic struggles of those who fall above, and especially below, that middle 60%.  But I’m guessing many of you reading this work with students and families from that middle 60%.  They and their parents are likely feeling economic stress that they might not be sharing.

How can we help our young people and their families in the midst of this challenging economy?

1.  Point them to God’s faithfulness.  There is no better place to start than to point them to God and the way God has - and will - provide for them.

2.  Invite parents to share about how they are growing during this time.  From the snatches of parental conversation kids inevitably hear, they likely only hear about the problems, the unpaid bills, and the upcoming mortgage payments.  I talked with one dad last week, who after hearing about Sticky Faith, decided he wanted to talk with his kids about how he had learned to trust God in the midst of being unemployed for over a year.  My response was, “I would never want your kids to feel the burden of your financial challenges but I would love for them to hear about how you’ve grown during them.”

3.  Talk about budgeting, saving, and tithing.  No matter how much we do or don’t have, it’s always a good time to talk with your students about how to handle their money.  Take them to a grocery story and tell them they have $75 to feed themselves for a week.  See what they put in their cart and if they can do it.

Or invite them to think about how to better use their allowance, or their babysitting or birthday money.

4.  See if students can help out their families financially.  Talk with your students about ways they can help out their family finances.  Even if they can’t get a job, they can turn off lights and conserve water (bonus:  that’s good for the environment too).

As a practical theologian, I believe God can and wants to teach us through every experience.  Financial struggles, although incredibly painful, certainly can produce new growth.