Bettering Kids’ Lives (Pt. 1)

Submitted by Bert Whitehead on Monday, March 10, 2014 - 12:00pm
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We all want better lives for the next generation. Here are some of the challenges we must address first.

Most of us born in the baby boom or before remember grandparents with no indoor plumbing and no car. They lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Our grandchildren can't imagine how we grew up without computers, smartphones or satellites. Today's children are the first who didn't learn childhood games from their parents; many of us lack the technological skills to understand their games – or even understand our own smart phones.

Think about the world our grandchildren face in their lifespans. Comparing the next century with the last forces us to wonder what coming generations must do to survive and prosper. We must work out strategies to further prosperity not only for our families but for our communities.

The gaps constantly widen between our educated and uneducated, between the healthy and the unhealthy. Many factors contribute to these anomalies; generally the poorest among us not only access the fewest financial resources but also have the least education and the shortest life expectancies.

Earning and learning less. Our children probably won’t enjoy the same affluence we did, and the general gap between the rich and poor expands at a frightening rate.

In addition to the wealth and earning inequality of the past 30 to 50 years, our country sees a widening educational gap. High school graduation rates, ACT (formerly American College Testing) scores and reasoning and comprehension skills plummeted until our country ranks 25th among 50 first-world countries, down from first place during the 1950s. Poor schools get worse, and the best schools get more expensive and elite.

Even though educational progress seems grim by the standards of our childhood, few of us match the technological prowess of our grandchildren. Maybe being smart in the 2100s will mean something different in an technological world where setting up your TV remote will seem a toddler’s task.

Indeed, ACT and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores may become irrelevant in the next few generations. Consider that 100 years ago, a classical education based on theology, philosophy and languages appeared to lay the cultural foundation for the future. Accelerating changes in critical thinking, scientific knowledge and specialized fields of inquiry require a much more advanced, or at least different, base.

Living longer. In 1900, life expectancy was 46 years, increasing to 78 years by 2000. As a result, Social Security will run out of money in the next few decades when too few workers remain to support the groundswell of baby boomer retirees. Many actuaries predict that more than half of all American children born during this century will live to age 100 or beyond.

Economic and demographic trends usually self-correct: Certainly life expectancy won’t continue to increase unless we address the primary health threats of obesity, sedentary lifestyles and increasing stress.

Parenting skills. The overriding common denominator between our haves and our have-nots: quality of parenting.

Almost half of American children are raised in single-parent homes; others grow up with dysfunctional adults. Even among two-parent households, financial conditions usually mean both parents work and neither spouse assumes primarily nurturing and teaching the children.

These children face steeper odds of eating balanced, nutritional meals and learning healthy habits. Children raised in dysfunctional homes are more likely to live in an underprivileged environment and their own children will probably suffer economic disadvantages as poverty becomes a normal way of life. When basic needs aren't met, education’s value also shrinks in importance.

We can influence and reinforce our progeny’s well-being by laying a sound financial foundation. Next, in the second of three articles, we look at tax strategies to help families improve their lives and those of their children.

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Bert Whitehead, MBA, JD, is a fee-only financial planner in Franklin, Mich. He regularly blogs at www.bertwhitehead.com and on FiGuide. Bert is a founding member of the National Association of Financial Planners (NAPFA) and the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors (ACA).

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