How to Succeed Financially: The American Template

In the U.S., the traditional narrative of how to succeed financially in has been to do the following:

  1. Go to college and earn a degree
  2. Use that degree to get a good job (with health insurance) that pays enough money to cover your basic needs and allows you to build some savings.
  3. With your savings, a mortgage loan, and maybe a little help from your parents, buy a home (presuming it makes sense vs. renting). This will save money on rent and home equity will be a major portion of your nest egg.
  4. Take advantage of institutionalized savings mechanisms (401K or other pension plans) to start saving for retirement to supplement Social Security. With diminishing payouts and concerns about the future solvency of Social Security, supplemental savings are increasingly important.
  5. After many years of work, retire and live comfortably off of your savings and Social Security.

While the notion of a strict linear model of the life course is increasingly outdated, there are also questions about the veracity of its basic assumptions–is a college degree worth the price tag? Is homeownership really a good investment? Yet, in the absence of clear alternatives, this remains the dominant life course narrative. Taking advantage of the online analysis tools at the University of California, Berkeley’s Survey Documentation and Analysis (SDA) program, I used the triennial Survey of Consumer Finance (SCF) and annual Current Population Survey (CPS) data to examine trends in work, benefits, and wealth among young working-age adults, those aged 25 to 44, over the past twenty years, with an eye to examining each step in this traditional narrative.

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Red State, Blue State: Education and the Vote

There has been no dearth of attention among political commentators, strategists, and scholars to the role of education in the upcoming presidential election, particularly regarding Obama’s and Romney’s support among college-educated and non-college-educated whites. As many pollsters have noted, Romney polls very well among non-college educated whites, but college-educated whites are more evenly split between the major-party contenders. A recent Pew survey illustrates the pattern.

College education is generally being used by most analysts as a proxy to distinguish working-class voters from more upscale voters. While we briefly considered class and income in our recently released report, Red State, Blue State: Demographic Change and Presidential Politics in Virginia, we didn’t explicitly explore education — primarily because the Election Day Exit Polls in Virginia didn’t include it as a question in most years (though education, as a predictor of turnout, is incorporated into the scenarios projecting the 2012 electorate under 2004 and 2008 conditions).

Still,  given the attention paid to non-college whites as a key element of the Republican voting coalition, I thought readers might be interested in seeing more of the data.

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Racial Segregation in Virginia’s Schools

Last week, May 17 to be exact, marked the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the 1954 Supreme Court case that declared racially segregated schools “inherently unequal.” Reading an op-ed this weekend that relayed some of the benefits of racially integrated schools piqued my curiosity about the status of school segregation in Virginia.

So I looked at the data, specifically, the fall membership data available from the Virginia Department of Education, including data on the number of black students, number of white students, number of economically disadvantaged students, and number of total students in each school in the 2011-2012 school year. From these, I produced a dissimilarity index – the segregation measure I discussed in a previous post – assessing how segregated black and white students were across the elementary schools in a school division (essentially, within a locality).

In my report on Blacks in Virginia, I noted that racially segregated neighborhoods produce more racially segregated schools. The graph illustrating the relationship is below:

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More on Virginia’s Colleges

Speaking of infographics, I’ve been playing with the college completion data I highlighted previously. Below is a star chart (aka radar chart, spider chart) of data on Virginia’s 4-year public colleges.

Each spoke represents a different piece of data, and the length of the spoke conveys the magnitude of that data for each university. The colleges themselves are ordered by the number of students which you can see in the spoke pointing due East – that spoke is longest for Virginia Tech and shortest for Virginia Military Institute.

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College Completion in Virginia

In March, The Chronicle of Higher Education, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, produced a microsite of college completion: it seeks to show “Who graduates from college, who doesn’t, and why it matters.” With data on 3,800 degree-granting institutions in the U.S., you can easily waste a lunch break (or two) exploring the site.

There are myriad ways to parse this data. You can look at individual institutions, institutions by state, types of institutions, and demographics within institutions. I looked at graduation rates among Virginia’s 4-year colleges by type of institution: public (15 colleges), private (28 colleges), and for-profit (17 colleges).

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