Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rich Kids, Poor Kids (Part 1)

Rich Kids, Poor Kids (Part 1)
Bert Whitehead, M.B.A., J.D. © 2014

This is the first of three related blogs covering a broad topic: reviewing the impact our legacy will have on our children and grandchildren.

·         Part 1: A View of our World Through our Grandchildren's Eyes in 100 Years

·         Part 2: Intergenerational Tax and Financial Strategies to Leave a Family Legacy

·         Part 3: The Most Important Lesson to Teach Our Children Now

Most of us who are baby-boomers or older had grandparents who had no indoor plumbing, no car, and remembered the Great Depression and World War II as personal experiences. Our grandchildren can't imagine we grew up without TV, computers, cell phones, or satellites. Today's children are the first generation who didn't learn their childhood games from their parents, and many of us don't have the technological skills to understand their games -- or even our smart phones.

Think about the world their grandchildren will face. We can't fathom the changes of the next 100 years --- from significant economic upheavals to likely wars with battles that will leave devastation beyond the nightmares we have seen.

Considering the next 100 years compared to the past century forces us to think through what the next generations must do to assure their survival and prosperity. Our parents and grandparents lived in a very different era, and we should think about strategies to further prosperity --- not only for our families but our communities.

Facing the Future

Our children are not likely to be as affluent as their parents. Some say it will be the first generation to be poorer than their parents. The gap between the rich and poor is expanding at a frightening rate.

In addition to the wealth and earning gap of the past 30 to 50 years, there has been a widening educational gap in our country. High school graduation rates, ACT scores, and reasoning and comprehension skills have plummeted until our country ranks 25th among 50 first-world countries, down from #1 during the 1950s. Poor schools get worse and the best schools get more expensive and elite. Additionally, 35 percent of our higher education resources are now devoted to students from China, Japan, South America and the Arab countries, as compared to 5 percent 50 years ago; this is a seven-fold increase.

Even though educational progress seems grim by the standards of our childhood, few of us can match the technological prowess of our grandchildren. It seems that the evolutionary process started hardwiring kids’ brains differently after about 1965. Maybe "being smart" in the 2200s will mean something entirely different in an overwhelmingly technological world, one in which setting up your TV remotes will be considered a simple task.

Indeed, ACT and SAT scores as we know them may become irrelevant in the next few generations. A hundred years ago, a classical education based on theology, philosophy, and languages was considered the cultural foundation for the future. Accelerating changes in critical thinking, scientific knowledge and specialized fields of inquiry require a much more advanced base.

Extended Life Expectancy

Life expectancy was 46 years in 1900 and had increased to 78 years by 2000. As a result, Social Security as we know it will end within a few decades, because there will be too few workers to support the large number of baby boomer retirees. Many actuaries predict that more than 50 percent of the American children born during this century will be centenarians. However, economic and demographic trends tend to be self-correcting. Certainly life expectancy won’t continue to increase unless we address the primary health threats that we face: obesity, sedentary lifestyles and increasing stress.

To summarize, there is a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, between the educated and the uneducated, and between the healthy and the unhealthy. Many factors contribute to these anomalies; generally the poorest among us not only have the fewest financial resources, but also the least education and the shortest life expectancy. Solving the income inequality issue, the glaring education gap and the health disparities within our society cannot be done independently.

Parenting Skills Are Key

The overriding common denominator between the haves and the have-nots in our society is the quality of their parenting. 40 percent of American children are raised in single-parent homes and others grow up with dysfunctional adults. Even among two-parent households, financial conditions usually necessitate that both parents work so that neither spouse is available to be the primary nurturer and teacher of children.

These children are less likely to have balanced, nutritional meals and may not be taught healthy habits. Children raised in dysfunctional homes are likely to live in an underprivileged environment. Their children will likely also be economically disadvantaged, as poverty is normalized in their world. When basic needs aren't met, the value of education is not paramount.

Of course we alone can’t change the course of mankind. Our primary goal is to do what is best for our own families. We are in a position to influence and reinforce the well-being of our progeny by laying a sound financial foundation. There are perfectly legal tax strategies which our government has designed that enable families to improve their lives and those of their children. I’ll cover these in my next blog.

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