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Lean on Me

More consumers need a hand surviving the recession and preparing for retirement.

August 20, 2012
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Lora Bray

Lora Bray is a research librarian at CUNA.

I was in the checkout line at the grocery store when the lady ahead of me experienced a difficult moment that gave me pause.

The shopper paid close attention to the running total as the checker scanned her items.  Suddenly, she raised a hand to halt proceedings.  “Stop—that’s all I can afford.”

The sensitive checker complied as the customer considered.  “Wait, I think we can do a few more…”  A couple more items were bagged before she again stopped the process.  The checker set unpurchased items aside for re-shelving as the self-conscious shopper apologetically turned to me.

“I am sorry to hold you up,” she said.  “I’ve got only so much in the budget.”

I waved aside her comment and smiled.  “No worries,” I said.  She unnecessarily thanked me, thanked the astute checker, and departed.

I considered.  The shopper was clearly embarrassed by the turn of events.  Could she lean on a credit union for help and for advice on how to manage her available funds?

For consumers, is there awareness that they, in the words of songwriter Bill Withers, “just might have a problem that you’ll understand?”  How can you reach those who are unsure how—or are afraid—to ask for help?

Think about how you can fill the unspoken needs they won’t let show as you peruse this week’s research.

The Great Recession

“Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow…” The Great Recession has been one of those times.

See “A Closer Look at Nonparticipants During and After the Great Recession” by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.  This study examines the significant number of people who cited “schooling” as a reason for leaving the labor force:

The increased use of “schooling” as a reason for leaving the workforce “has more likely been a response to lower opportunity costs of schooling during economic downturns rather than the result of workers trying to overcome skill mismatch in the labor market.”  Furthermore, “the decline in labor force participation since 2008 is likely more transitory than permanent.”

During the Great Recession, More Young Adults Lived with Parents,” according to a US2010 Project paper.

Note the recession’s impact on people ages 20-34. Many have been forced to lean on their parents: 24% lived with mom and dad from 2007 to 2009, up from 17% in 1980.  Forty-three percent of those under 25 lived at home, and “levels of co-residence are also much higher for men than for women, for minorities than for whites, and for persons with lower education.”

For more on where we live in these difficult times, examine “Shifting Confidence in Homeownership: The Great Recession” by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston: “People who lived (in 2008) in ZIP codes that were hard hit by the crash…are significantly more likely to be confident about owning a home if they are older…but are significantly less likely to be confident about owning a home if they are younger.”

The results imply “something like hands-on experience is required to change confidence in home ownership.  This is because presumably almost everyone was exposed to multiple media headlines about what had happened in their neighborhood…and yet they do not show a similar divergence in confidence.”

The recession’s effects on governmental policies are examined in “Great Recession and Fiscal Squeeze at U.S. Subnational Government Level” by the International Monetary Fund.

At issue is whether “the current fiscal rules are forcing states to undertake overly drastic procyclical policies that could derail or delay recovery and weaken long-term economic performance.  Our conclusion is that far-reaching changes to current borrowing rules are unlikely and unnecessary…”

Finally on the recession’s impact, see “Weathering the Recession: The Financial Crisis and Family Wealth Changes in Low-Income Neighborhoods” by the Urban Institute.  “Asset and debt levels remained lower for vulnerable families, and low-income families disproportionately lost equity during the crisis.  Yet even in 2008/09, home equity was substantial and an important component of wealth ($66,000, more than four times as much as families had in savings) for the nearly half of families who were homeowners.”

Consumers need a hand

Do you offer retirement advice?  Discover a need in “Social Security Advice That Harms Wives” as suggested by Boston College.  “Most financial advisers give troubling advice to married couples about when to claim their Social Security benefits, advice that can substantially reduce their wife’s income during retirement.”

Many consumers aren’t aware of the benefits of delaying acceptance of benefits, which also benefits the wife with larger payments.

A survey reveals that “just 44 percent of advisers said they were aware that all workers’ Social Security benefits increase with age…an individual who is age 62 can increase the size of his or her monthly Social Security check by more than one-third by waiting to file for benefits at age 66 and by more than 75 percent by waiting until 70.”

The mystique of Social Security affects all generations, however.  See “A Young Person’s Guide to Social Security” by the Economic Policy Institute.

Many younger people believe Social Security will disappear. This, combined with general apathy on the subject, means “Young people are uninformed and therefore misinformed.  They do not understand how Social Security works, who it affects, and how it fits into their future plans.”

Finally, learn that “Women Are Taking on Greater Financial Challenges” according to Prudential.  This study looks at the differences in “financial perceptions, approaches, goals, and confidence” between men and women.

Among the key findings:

  • Baby Boomer and younger women are not ready for retirement;
  • A mere 10% of breadwinning women feel knowledgeable about financial products and services; and
  • Forty-five percent of men feel “well prepared” to make smart financial choices, compared to only 23% of women.

Do you allow your members to lean on you with their personal finance issues, financial literacy concerns, or other needs?  What might your caring response mean on a very personal level?  Perhaps more than you think.

“We all need somebody to lean on.”

LORA BRAY is a research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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