The coronavirus public health emergency is also an economic and financial crisis. Layoffs are already rising at a rapid clip. Many laid-off workers will run out of money soon. Small businesses and nonprofit organizations (think theater companies) operate on thin cash margins with few resources to draw on when customers don’t show up. No one knows how many months the economy will decline.
The machinery of government is working at countering the downward momentum. Financial advisers struggle to offer calm money management guidance even though we’re in uncharted times.
For those wondering about household finances, I want to highlight a financial and emotional safety net that doesn’t get enough emphasis: Family, extended family, close friends, people we’ve known over the years and trust. Our network, in the language of modern business.
Take the family. Marriage rates are down. The ranks of single parents are up. Yet a different family structure doesn’t mean the bonds are broken. “Although the demise of the American family has been lamented throughout the baby boomers’ lives, most baby boomers are actively involved with members of generations above and below them,” observe four scholars in an article published in the Gerontologist.
Intergenerational relationships are durable. Take the more than 44 million caregivers helping their aging parents. A survey by AARP reported that about one third of adults in their 40s, 50s and early 60s gave a parent money in the past year.
The money flows the other way, too. A survey by the financial services firm Merrill Lynch and demographic consulting firm Age Wave found that 6 in 10 (62%) of those age 50-plus provided financial support to adult children, grandchildren, parents and/or siblings during the last five years. Half of pre-retirees age 50-plus say they would make major sacrifices that could affect their retirement to help family members.
Much personal finance literature worries about these financial bonds; columnists push against the “Bank of Mom and Dad.” The commonly expressed worry misses the point. Our intergenerational network is a vital part of who we are and, in troubled times, a critical piece of our safety net. What else is money for but to support those we love? Reach out and make sure the people you know are OK. Help out if you can and turn to your network if you need help. You are part of an intergenerational network and community.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace”; commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.