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Breaking the Bank: Student finances at El Camino

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

It is said that “money makes the world go round.” If so, then how does money make El Camino students’ worlds go round? Where does students’ money come from and what is it spent on? To answer these  questions, the Colt Quarterly staff conducted a school-wide survey of 836 El Camino students detailing their money sources and spending habits.

Money Sources
Let’s face it; everyone’s all guilty of asking for money from their parents. But should parents be students’ primary source of funds? The survey results show that students’ greatest source of money comes from their parents; an average of 37 percent of students’ money is given to them freely without requiring repayment to parents. The next greatest source of money comes as gifts given by relatives, with an average of 19 percent. Seniors get an average of 17 percent of their money from jobs—higher than any other grade level; lowerclassmen only get an average of six or seven percent of money from jobs.

It seems that the major sources from which students get their money has changed over the years. “When I was younger, my parents made me work for what I wanted,” economics teacher Joel Compton said. Learning the value of money caused Compton to think twice about his purchases.

Compared to earlier generations where teens usually had to work for their money, over the years more and more students have been receiving their money freely from their parents. What could possibly account for this change? Why is it that most kids don’t work, but are merely given their money as opposed to working for it?

This trend can be attributed to increased competition in high school. As the chances of getting into college are getting harder and harder, more and more students are focusing more on academics and less on work. Students are taking more and more AP and Honors classes, joining clubs, and participating in athletics as well as volunteering after school. Students are simply too busy to work when their hours are filled with studying, homework, and participating in activities that will give them an edge in college applications.

“[My parents] want me to focus on school first,” senior Reginne Ang said. “If I start working then I might get sidetracked because of all the money I’m earning.”

Another possibility, according to Compton, is a change in parents’ mentality. He hypothesizes that many parents have changed their outlook over the years, becoming more lenient—or “doting” on the younger generations.

While freely giving teens money may be convenient for students, it may hurt them in the long run. When students receive money without working for it, they may not understand its value and may thus take it for granted. This causes them to be unprepared when dealing with finances in the adult world. “When you give something for nothing, it’s like welfare at an early age,” Compton says.

Spending Habits
Not surprisingly, students spend the majority of the money they receive on entertainment, including movies, video games, music, and books. On average, students spend $140.07 a month on entertainment, which is 85 percent of the money they get per month.
It is also interesting to note that males and females spend their money differently. Females spend more money than males on clothes with 25 percent for girls versus 16 percent for boys, grooming expenses at seven percent for girls versus three percent for boys, and school supplies at five percent for girls versus two percent for boys. On the other hand, males spend more money than females on food with 19 percent versus 13 percent, entertainment at 34 percent versus 30 percent, and transportation at six percent versus five percent. Male students typically spend their money on video games, eating out, transportation-related expenses including their own cars, and electronics, whereas girls tend to spend more on beauty products and clothes.

In total, male students spend more money a month than female students. According to the survey, male students spend an average of $192.85 a month whereas females spend an average of $76.30 a month—a 40 percent difference.

Out of 628 responders from the 836 surveyed, 26 percent used credit cards or debit cards. “It’s a bad call for parents to give their kids credit cards,” Compton said. “It’s easy to spend for credit when you haven’t earned it.” If students consider about the work it took to earn the money they’re spending, they might make wiser decisions when it comes to spending money.

Although El Camino’s economics curriculum focuses little on lessons in teaching students practical lessons in managing their finances, several El Camino teachers teaching economics classes are planning to include more lessons on financial literacy in their curriculum. Compton stresses the importance of training kids in financial literacy at an early age. He feels that his parents had prepared him better for managing finances as an adult by making him work for his money as a kid, compared to his younger sister who readily received money from her parents much like the majority of El Camino students, and according to Compton, “had to learn the hard way” in the future.

El Camino’s Workforce
El Camino students who currently have or have had jobs in the past are generally employed in the retail sector. The next dominant industry in which students work are family businesses, followed by the food service industry. A low percent of students earn their money through babysitting. Students with jobs earned an average of $11.99 an hour—60 percent more than California’s current minimum wage of $8.00.

The higher the students’ economic class, the lower their work hours. Among the students who classified their socioeconomic statuses, students from low-income households worked for significantly more hours (16 hours on average) than did students from upper-income households (six hours on average). In correlation, El Camino students who qualified for free or reduced lunch (55 percent) worked 17 hours on average as opposed to students who did not qualify for free lunch (26 percent) who worked 15 hours on average. Students from lower-income households have a bigger need to work for money whereas students from upper-income households usually work to supplement their funding.

Surprisingly—and disconcertingly—the gender gap concerning earnings doesn’t just exist for adults. Female students earn an average of $9.91 an hour, whereas male students earn an average of $14.21 an hour. Female students earn 70 percent of what male students earn, or 70 cents for every dollar that male students earn. This percentage correlates with what statistics indicate: according to the US Census Bureau in 2004, women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.
There are several possibilities that might contribute to this disparity: four percent of El Camino’s workforce—all male—have indicated that they work in the construction industry, where pay is higher and where women may be less inclined to apply and get hired for jobs—clearly indicating to the gap. Other possibilities are that female students make less than men because they are less assertive about asking for raises, or have less chances of being hired for higher paying jobs due to the gender discrimination that still exists in society. “It’s a shame,” Compton said. “But I think there’s still a [sexist] attitude out there.”

In addition, today’s stagnant economy has made it more and more difficult for high school students to find jobs. Jobs that high school students used to have are now being taken by college students and other adults who, in turn, cannot find jobs or have lost their jobs due to the recent economic downturn.

“[Most work places] don’t want teens,” El Camino Work Experience Coordinator Skip Del Sarto explains. “I guess to them, teens are not as reliable.”

Senior Michelle Coronado has been looking for jobs since the end of her sophomore year, but to no avail. “I’ve applied almost everywhere,” Coronado said. “I feel I had really good qualities and for them to reject me makes me feel discouraged … If I can’t find a job as a teen, how about as an adult?” She also believes that race discrimination also plays a factor in her difficulty in finding work.

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