Class warfare

Much of President Obama’s State of the Union address focused on the economy. Obama warned that the “decades-old promise of a secure and rising middle class is under threat because of growing disparities between the rich and everyone else in America,” reported The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson and David Nakamura.

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” Obama said.

A number of recent reports have highlighted the growing wealth gap in this country. And Obama laid out some proposals that he said could help shrink that gap, including calling on Congress to extend the payroll tax cut, which benefits working-class families, through the end of the year.

The Post’s Paul Kane outlines the president’s proposals and which ones might pass Congress. Kane explains the payroll tax holiday, unemployment reform and education reform, in which the president urged Congress to extend the tuition tax credit “and give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.”

“Higher education can’t be a luxury,” Obama said. “It’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Here’s a breakdown of the president’s speech.

What economic proposals do you hope get passed?

Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Class Warfare” in the subject line. Please include your full name, city and state.

Checking the Facts

I’m a fan of Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post column The Fact Checker, which promises the truth behind the rhetoric and uses a “Pinocchio test.” At a time when politicians – Democrats and Republicans -- are twisting statistics to hammer each other, it’s a must-read to get the facts straight. Read his latest take on this stat thrown out by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who gave the Republican response to the State of the Union address: “One in five men of prime working age and nearly half of all persons under 30 did not go to work today.”

Kessler gives the governor two Pinocchios for twisting the facts.

Kessler also took on some of Obama’s more fact-challenged claims, including some about the economy.

Family Fund

For years I’ve advised people who can afford it to set aside money in an account to help financially strapped family members.

However, while I believe that to whom much is given, much is required, helping family comes with a lot of pitfalls.

“When adult children are pushed to give beyond what they can afford or what they feel comfortable with, families can be torn apart,” Ruthie Ackerman wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently. “Stories about boomerang kids who come back to live with their parents after college are common. Less-publicized are the parents who move back in with their well-off children.”

In interviewing experts, Ackerman assembles tips for helping a parent or other relatives. Experts say:

--Set limits. Differentiate between what a parent needs and what he or she wants.

-- I suggest that you create a budget for helping or a family fund. “Be generous, just not with an open-ended checkbook,” Tim Sabol, an adviser at Ameriprise Financial in Philadelphia, tells Ackerman.

--Keep information about your income or net worth private. Share too much financial information, and you open yourself up for a lot of requests for money.

This week’s Color of Money Question: Do you have problems because you earn more than your parents or siblings? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Family Fund” in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

“If Parents Are Paying, Should They Get A Say?”

For last week’s Color of Money question, I asked, “If you’ve paid for your child’s education, did you try to influence or give advice about what major he or she studied, and if so, how did it work out?”

Jeffrey McCandless of Washington didn’t direct his children to a major but instituted a strategy that he believes helps them make better decisions about their college education. He pays just half of the expenses; the student covers the rest.

“The premise is that if the child has a stake in the game, they will tend to make better choices when deciding whether to study for that test the next day or go out with their friends,” McCandless said. “It works. I call my 50 percent the ‘love tuition’ and would never dream of telling my sons what they should major in. It’s their life and they need to be happy with their choice, not blaming me if things don’t work out for them.”

Curtis Eddie of Warren, Ohio, writes: “I encouraged my kids that college was expected. They could go anywhere in Ohio that had the word ‘state’ in the name and as long as they did not go after any degree housed in the fine or performing arts building, I would pay most of the way,”. “Arts and music are great but a lousy way to make a living. And your performance skills count for more than a piece of paper that says you are qualified anyway. I also, of course, advocated engineering, as it has been good for me. My son refused engineering and is working through his sixth year of business school while working full time in retail. My daughter started in biomedical engineering but bailed at the math and seems to have a passion for economics so she is working through her second year.”

Fayola Bostic of St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, says: “My parents had a strong hand in my choice of major, and I can’t say that I followed my dreams. I am now financially in a position to fly in whichever direction my heart wants to take me. Maybe I would have been happier those four years in college as a theater major, and maybe I would have been a Broadway star by now. I guess those were not odds that my parents were willing to play with their money or their child’s future. In the meantime, I enjoy the lifestyle, and more importantly, the options, that their choice, and mine, has provided.”

Writes Allison Jablonski of Lynchburg, Va.: “Give your students advice and guidance, and help them explore career options, but let them make the choices. This teaches responsibility for their actions.”

The Revolution Can Be Televised

Here are a couple of videos from my first few segments on “The Revolution,” a new daytime program on ABC:

--Using the Debt Dashing, I teach two young women how to get out of debt and manage their credit cards. Here’s the link for my column about how to use the Debt Dash.

-- In this segment, I sit down with a guest, and we discuss her budget, an emergency fund and why she can’t afford to go on a vacation with her son.

As the financial contributor on the show, I’m looking for people who are brave enough to come on and discuss their financial issues. So, if you have a money dilemma, send an e-mail to casting@the-revolution.com.

For an upcoming segment, I’m looking for women who have been wiped out financially by their spouse or significant other. If you’re interested in being part of the show, you can also e-mail me at colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “The Revolution” in the subject line.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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