Securing tomorrow’s economy

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, July 28, 2011

The United Way of South Hampton Roads is taking steps to help area teens, especially those who live under foster care or in public housing, learn a little bit about the financial responsibilities that come along with independence.

“Real Money: What’s Your Plan?” is designed to offer lessons in financial independence to those young people who have historically been at greatest risk of becoming dependent on public resources. The program is being held for teens in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and United Way officials are looking for a way to bring it to Suffolk in the future.

Considering the nation’s dire financial situation, such a program is desperately needed. One of the truly mind-boggling statistics to come to the public’s attention during the long debate over raising the United States’ debt ceiling is this nugget dropped by the president in order to show just how important it is to keep federal funds flowing: The Treasury Department sends out 70 million payments a month.

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What’s even more incredible is that, according to the Washington Post, that number includes only Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits and payments to non-defense contractors and vendors. Add in Medicare reimbursements and food stamp recipients and the total swells to nearly 200 million, the Post figures. Which still doesn’t include most defense department expenses.

It would be silly to suggest that there is nothing the federal government should buy, no service it needs badly enough to pay for and no benefit deserving of taxpayer dollars. Equally silly, however, would be the claim that every one of those benefits, payments and purchases is legitimate and necessary.

Clearly the system is bloated, but it continues to be supported by politicians who are afraid of losing the votes of constituents who have come to expect and rely upon the largesse of other taxpayers.

The United Way’s program is designed, in part, to break that cycle of expectation. Teens who have grown up relying on public assistance are at risk of a mindset that accepts such assistance as a permanent condition in life. That mindset has contributed to the nation’s wildly out-of-control deficit spending, and breaking it will be necessary if America is ever to get itself out of a sea of red ink.

Training a new generation in financial stewardship will be an important part of the solution. Bringing that United Way program to Suffolk would be a great and worthwhile project for one of the city’s community service organizations. After all, there’s no more worthwhile community service than to help secure the future.