Author Archives: Shawn McMahon

Is USA.gov’s ‘Help for Difficult Financial Times’ about Emergencies or Economic Security? Or Neither?

I recently had occasion to visit USA.gov’s Help for Difficult Financial Times webpage. It’s a remarkable portal which addresses a wide range of personal finance issues under the headings Unemployment, Jobs, and Training, Family Support, Housing, Health Care and Insurance and Debt and Credit. Intentionally or not, the information and links available at ‘Help for Difficult Financial Times’ largely reflect the federal government’s current role in Americans’ lives and the Administration’s foci—employment, health care, childcare and early education, disaster relief, housing relief.

 

Frankly, the site could benefit from a better title, and, at very least, an introduction which suggests a use other than help in hard times. “Help” and “difficult financial times” is expressive, impactful language, and may help the page’s information reach those in crisis. But the title suggests these resources are for those currently in need of and looking for help, and for use in extraordinary circumstances. Even if the nation weren’t still recovering from a housing crisis and record unemployment, there would still be millions who could and should benefit from these resources. There is not a worker or household finance manager who cannot benefit from the site’s convenient information on jobs, education and training, mortgages, business loans, nutrition, health insurance, etc. Hopefully the landing page’s title does not express someone’s concern that government information, expertise and programs be utilized only by those suffering “genuine” financial distress.

 

The site can also benefit from an improved framing of the information presented. True, the webpages are in some degree cobbled together from help and resources available on disparate government webpages, but it all adds up to something. The pieces may not (yet) constitute a comprehensive economic security toolbox, but they are a good start, and go some distance in defining economic security. Why not be explicit and advise the site’s visitors that workers, families, households should understand, plan for and work toward security, and pay attention to (nearly) all of the security fundaments presented? The federal government should not be helping a family survive only by helping them patch the current hole. They should be actively prompting the family to think comprehensively and often about how they can achieve their definition of security and not be waylaid by the inevitable next difficult financial time.

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Can’t Afford to Work?

A recent CNN Money article, Moms: ‘I can’t afford to work, introduces the reader to a suburban Maryland mother who states that the high cost of employment—commuting, clothing, childcare—make working infeasible. Her decision to give up her career raises questions: When does it actually become too expensive for a spouse or partner to work? When do expenses such as childcare and transportation become greater than a second after-tax income? It turns out that for the typical two-worker American household, having as few as two children can tip the scales.

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