Investing in Economic Education
I am optimistic about the economic future of our nation. The prospects are excellent for continuing improvements in technology, increases in productivity, and innovations in banking and financial services—all of which bode well for our future standard of living. As we move forward, however, each and every American will face the challenge of making sound financial decisions in this extraordinarily complex economy. Sound financial decisions are critical not only to the prosperity and financial security of individuals, but also to the growth and efficiency of our overall economy.
Meeting the challenge of operating in today’s economy is much easier if we have a working knowledge of how our economy functions and how it affects us. That is why economic education is such a critical component of the Federal Reserve’s mission, as detailed in this 2005 annual report of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Economics affects every aspect of our lives. Each of us must understand how economics affects the decisions our government makes in order to participate fully in our democratic system as informed citizens and as informed voters. We must understand how economics affects the business world—especially if we choose careers in business and most especially if we take that bold step forward on our own as entrepreneurs. Ultimately, the most important reason to educate ourselves about economics and personal finance is to ensure that we make the right decisions to achieve financial security for ourselves and our loved ones.
The Federal Reserve’s mission of conducting monetary policy and maintaining a stable financial system depends upon the participation and support of an educated public. Accomplishing this mission involves trade-offs and tough decisions. As the Fed pursues the monetary policy objectives that have been set out for us by Congress—to pursue price stability, maximum employment and moderate long-term interest rates—it is essential that the public understand our objectives and our actions. Educating the public about the reasoning behind our decisions helps build confidence in our economic system—another critical factor in keeping our economy running smoothly.
No matter what your age or educational background—whether you are a student, an entrepreneur, a homemaker or a professor—the Fed has resources to help you learn more about economics and to help you participate in the important national conversations we must have about these issues. In the end, I believe you will find that economic education is one of the best investments you can make for your own future and for the future of your family, your community and our nation.
Economic Education: Our Commitment
When I left my previous career in higher education to become president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, I moved into a job that carries with it an enormous responsibility. But in many ways, I took on just as much responsibility during my 25-plus years as an educator.
Teaching is about equipping people to make a difference in the world. The students learning now to read and write are the future authors and journalists. Those who are studying math and science today may be headed toward an engineering or biochemical career in adulthood. Today’s students, no matter what they study, will be tomorrow’s leaders in business and government, often with influence and responsibility that is worldwide in scope.
And what about teaching our students economics? Are we simply teaching a classroom of young people to debate the principles of supply and demand, or to analyze the benefits of price stability? In reality, there is a far greater purpose that lies at the heart of the St. Louis Fed’s commitment to economic education, the subject of our 2005 annual report.
Economics, in its purest form, is about making decisions. Economics is the study of how people make sound choices. By studying how markets work, our young people also learn how to make efficient choices in managing their own scarce resources, such as time and money.
As this generation heads toward adulthood, the decisions people will have to make are becoming increasingly complex and difficult. As participants in a global economy, they will need the best tools we can provide to them to truly make informed choices. Given the Federal Reserve’s own expertise, the Fed can be particularly helpful in fostering economic education to help people make good choices among a seemingly infinite array of financial services options, particularly in the face of the rapid growth of electronic payments. The Fed can also help to address the troublesome trends of low personal savings and increased accumulation of credit-card debt.
Economic education benefits the Fed, as well as the general public, by building support for the monetary policy actions we take. But the Fed’s influence can only go so far. The true power of the free-market economy lies in the ability of our nation’s citizens to make their own economic choices. That means teachers have enormous influence—and, therefore, responsibility—to provide young people with the knowledge they need to make informed, intelligent decisions now and in the future.
Throughout this annual report, you will read about the Fed’s economic education programs, ranging from money and banking courses for teachers to our nationwide Fed Challenge competition that allows teenagers to step into the shoes of a monetary policymaker. Most important, you will hear from the folks who are on the front lines of this effort: the economic education experts who have devoted themselves to promoting this critical field of study; the teachers who have taken responsibility for shaping the economic minds of the future; and the students themselves who will be making these life-changing—and, in some cases, world-changing—decisions.
My hope is that reading their stories will not only entertain and inform you, but also persuade you of the critical importance of promoting economic education. In particular, if you’re a parent or teacher reading this report, I hope you will be inspired to ask the tough but necessary questions of your educational institution: At what age are students learning about economics? How much economics is being taught? Are students really getting the economic background they need now to make the types of informed financial decisions they will face later in life?
Today’s minds will shape tomorrow’s economy. Thus, education is one of the Federal Reserve’s important missions. We invite you to partner with us in continuing that mission in the years ahead. No less than our nation’s economic future is at stake.
So, you’re a typical, well-informed citizen, right? Ask yourself the following questions:
>> What does it mean to say that gross domestic product has increased?
>> What is a federal budget deficit?
>> What type of investment has the greatest risk of losing value due to inflation?
The answers, respectively, are:
>> The amount of final goods and services produced has increased.
>> The federal government’s outlays for a year are greater than its revenue for that year.
>> Keeping your savings hidden as cash.
And if you got one or more answers wrong, don’t feel bad. You have something in common with a majority of American adults, at least according to the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE), which asked these questions as part of a quiz included in its 2005 Standards in Economics Survey, given to 3,512 adults and 2,242 students.
Based on the results of the 20-question quiz, adults got an average grade of 70 (a C) for their knowledge of economics, while the average score of students was 53—a failing grade. In its executive summary of the survey, the NCEE remarked, “A majority of high school students do not understand basic concepts in economics.”
Charles Wu, a senior at Marquette High School in west St. Louis County, Mo., isn’t one of them.
On an unseasonably warm afternoon in late January, while his classmates headed outdoors into the sunshine, Wu huddled in a classroom with five other students under the watchful eye of economics teacher Eva Johnston. Newspaper clippings were everywhere. Some of the students sat at computers, scrolling through web pages of economic data, while Wu and others used markers to add notes to an outline that already took up several pages of a giant flip pad.
It was a big day: In the final meeting conducted by outgoing Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) had just voted to again raise interest rates by one-quarter of a point, Wu and his classmates needed to decide what impact that action could have on the recommendation they would make if they were in the shoes of a monetary policymaker.They would be wearing those shoes in less than six weeks while they competed with other high school teams in the annual Fed Challenge event.
Fed Challenge, sponsored by the St. Louis Fed and other Reserve banks around the country, allows high school students to take part in a mock FOMC meeting. They make a 15-minute presentation to a panel of judges and then spend an additional 15 minutes being questioned on their findings and recommendations on monetary policy.
The team that wins the St. Louis district competition heads to the national finals in Washington, D.C., where Wu doesn’t need a tour guide. He and his classmates made the finals in each of his four years on the team, continuing Marquette’s nine-year winning streak in the Eighth District competition.
Four for four is nice, but Wu is looking even further into his future as he ponders his career aspirations. “I’m planning to major in economics,” he says. That’s a far cry from how he felt when he first joined the team as a freshman on the recommendation of his math teacher, whose classroom is next door to Johnston’s. “I really didn’t know anything about economics,” Wu says. “At the time, it was just something to do. There did come a point where I asked myself, ‘What am I getting into?’ Eventually, I built up my confidence.”
For every student like Charles Wu, however, there are many teenagers who won’t learn enough about economics to gain that confidence—or even to acquire the knowledge they need to become a savvy adult in today’s complex financial world. That fear—and the desire to make students like Wu the rule, rather than the exception—helps drive the passion of Dawn Griffitts, a former teacher who has managed the St. Louis Fed’s economic education programs for more than 10 years.
“The Fed has the knowledge and the means to teach others about economics, and we certainly have a comparative advantage in teaching about the role of the Fed in the economy,” says Griffitts. “If we don’t get out and talk about economics and the Federal Reserve, who will?”
In this annual report, Griffitts and her St. Louis Fed co-workers join with economic education experts, teachers and students to share their thoughts on Fed Challenge and the many other St. Louis Fed courses and programs that promote economic education—and why shaping today’s young minds is so critical to the Fed’s economic mission of tomorrow.
The Eighth District has been a supporter of economic education for decades, hosting teacher meetings and providing expert speakers. That role became more proactive in the mid-1990s with the hiring of Griffitts, who began shaping a new direction for the program. The new direction included providing economic education curriculum and lesson plans and instructing teachers in how to use those materials.
Today, teachers remain the primary target audience for the Fed’s economic education programs. “Having been a teacher, I know that teachers teach what they know, and they don’t teach what they don’t know,” Griffitts says. “If they don’t understand economics, and they don’t understand issues, and they don’t understand topics like the deficit and its impact on the economy, they’re not going to talk about those subjects in the classroom.”
And what happens in the classroom can have a ripple effect in society at large, as students grow up to be adult decision-makers, says St. Louis Fed Public Affairs Officer Joe Elstner.
“We have a democracy in which citizens make decisions, including economic decisions, based on the information they have,” Elstner says. “But even people with plenty of education in the field of economics often don’t really know the intricacies of monetary policy-making. At the Fed, that’s an important function that we know the public needs to understand better.”
The need for greater public understanding of economics in general and the Fed’s monetary policy mission in particular is also apparent to economic education experts in the Eighth District, such as Mary Suiter, the director of the University of Missouri-St. Louis Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education.
“Both kids and adults have misconceptions about what the Fed is and what the Fed does,” Suiter says. “Many believe the Fed is printing money and giving it to banks. What they hear and read through the media is sometimes inaccurate, too.”
Suiter often works in tandem with another economic education specialist, Mary Anne Pettit, associate director of the Office of Economic Education and Business Research at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. They serve as advisers for Griffitts’ programs, helping her to shape curriculum and present material at events such as the economic education conference held throughout the District each fall and the “Making Sense of Money and Banking” course that takes place in St. Louis every summer.
“Society is not going to support and protect the Fed’s role and its independence if they don’t understand it,” Pettit says. “That won’t happen if they look at the Fed as a mysterious ivory tower. Our system works best if everyone understands how the Fed works and knows that they have a stake in the outcome.”
Coordinating a variety of publications and conferences throughout the year can be a tall order, particularly as the St. Louis Fed continues to add more economic education programs each year. Fortunately, Griffitts and her fellow economic education coordinators at the District branches have help.
For starters, they rely heavily on the advice, assistance and materials contributed by experts from state councils and centers on economic education, such as Suiter and Pettit. They also take advantage of the expertise of the Fed’s own Research economists. In addition, they get a big boost from the District’s teacher advisory boards—groups of teachers throughout the District’s seven-state territory who meet with Fed staff regularly to share input on economic education programs.
“In all of our offices, we have contacts who can deliver hands-on activities that complement the raw knowledge we have available at the Fed from our economists,” Griffitts says. “And our teacher advisory board members are wonderful in helping us to get ideas and to stay current with what’s going on in the economic education field.”
The Fed’s courses, programs and materials are “a godsend” for teachers such as Peggy Pride of St. Louis University High School. She teaches advanced placement economics and relies heavily on the Fed’s publications, data, web sites and other materials.
“The Fed is a tremendous resource for teachers,” she says. “If you are teaching any type or amount of economics in the classroom, there is just no way you won’t benefit by relying on their materials.”
Teachers like Pride are most grateful for not only the information that the Fed presents at its events and conferences, but also for the materials that help transform the subject matter into a classroom lesson for kids. “We give them lessons that they can literally take right back to school and plug into their teaching, usually with few changes,” says Griffitts.
These events and resources educate teachers about not only the Fed and its mission, but also economics in general—a subject that, like the Fed itself, is often plagued by misunderstanding and misconceptions. With that bond in common, the Fed has joined forces with educators in a continuing campaign to persuade the public—and politicians—of the critical role of economics in school curriculums, even at the elementary level.
Say the word “economics” to a group of adults, and you’re likely to inspire dreaded flashbacks of overhead projector slides and confusing line graphs. As a field of study, economics could use some PR help, Suiter admits.
“In general, economics gets a bad name,” she says. “People think of it as just supply and demand charts. They ask us, ‘How can you teach this to kids, and why do they need to know it?’ My answer is that we’re teaching kids how to make good decisions. We’re teaching them that scarcity exists and that you can’t have everything you want. You have to prioritize and make choices.
“Economics provides a framework for making decisions. If more kids and adults had that framework, they would also make better political decisions and be more informed voters.”
Most of the St. Louis Fed’s programs are open to teachers at all levels, including elementary, middle and high school. Suiter and her co-workers at the UM-St. Louis center have developed programs for kids at every grade level, including a program for first- and second-graders called “Do a Zoo.”
“Do a Zoo” invites children to bring in stuffed animals, classify them (as a fish, reptile or mammal) and choose which animals to include in a zoo display that will be attended by their classmates.
“In making choices, they’re using economic decision-making and learning about opportunity cost and how to choose between scarce resources,” says Suiter. “They also learn about capital resources when they set up the display.”
At the elementary school level—and even when they’re a few years older—kids have a tendency to believe that they can have everything, Pettit says.
“I don’t think young people understand that you have to trade off and make choices,” she says. “Studies show that kids have already made a lot of decisions by the time they get to sixth grade, such as what they’re spending money on and what they’re going to do. If you’re going to make an impression on kids and their choices, you need to get to them early.
Simple programs such as “Do a Zoo” can get that lesson across in a fun and painless manner, Pettit says. “Sometimes we make things more complex than they are,” she says. “You can’t teach monetary policy to second-graders, but you can teach opportunity cost. Taking economic concepts and making them simple is helpful for all of us. You’re opening minds and turning lights on.”
Even if teachers don’t question the value of economics for young students, squeezing it into the curriculum presents more of a challenge. The old adage of “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” has taken on a new meaning in recent years. The U.S. government’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 holds schools accountable for student test scores in reading and mathematics. President George W. Bush’s recently announced American Competitiveness Initiative urges schools to focus more on math and science.
As a result, teachers are forced to focus on those areas at the expense of other subjects—such as economics, Suiter says. “So, if we want economics to be taught, our best hope is to find a relevant way to integrate it into the rest of the school curriculum.”
At St. Louis Fed classes and conferences, teachers of economics-only usually find themselves in the minority, Griffitts says.
“We have social studies, history, government, business education, math and even some language arts teachers,” Griffitts says.
For example, the St. Louis Fed’s 2003 fall teachers conference focused on the economics of the Great Depression.
“We had lots of history teachers attend, many of whom had never heard the economic perspective on the Great Depression before,” Griffitts says. “They had mostly heard only the historical perspective. We gave them another way to think about it and to teach it.”
The annual Teach Children to Save Day event, in which volunteers from the Fed and community banks talk to elementary school children about the importance of personal savings, uses lessons based on children’s books. This approach merges economics with reading.
In fact, economics can actually spice up other subjects for kids—rather than the other way around, Suiter says. “Kids are intrigued by money. If you can hook them by talking about money, you can infuse a lot more economics into the material to improve their knowledge.”
Integration of economics into other subjects is likely to remain the rule in American classrooms, with only about one-third of states requiring high school students to take economics. As a result, there is less incentive for districts to make room for pure economics classes on the schedule. There are some encouraging signs for the future, though. Illinois and Kentucky already require students to take a personal finance course prior to graduation. Mississippi and Arkansas both require a course to be offered. Missouri will now require high school students to earn a half-credit in personal finance, starting in fall 2006.
These new requirements are part of a growing trend among not just educators but community development experts, as well. Whether adults or children are the audience, educators are concerned about the lack of personal finance knowledge and skills, as evidenced by Americans’ low rate of saving and high rate of credit-card debt and bankruptcy.
The Federal Reserve has taken a leading role in the personal finance education campaign, sponsoring programs for both adults and students and taking part in events such as Teach Children to Save Day. “Personal finance is an application of economics,” Griffitts says. “You have to make choices, and every choice you make incurs a cost. Clearly, that is the foundation for making good personal financial decisions.”
Teaching children about saving money is taking on added urgency now given the mistakes adults have made, Suiter says, noting that the U.S. saving rate is now negative (with consumers spending $100.05 in 2005 for every $100 they made) for the first time since the Great Depression.
“You can’t change the world in one day with one lesson, but we want to draw attention to the need to save,” she says. “The negative saving rate is a wake-up call: We have to help kids realize the importance of saving.”
Ultimately, the key to successful economic education is to help students realize how it can improve not just the future of others, but their own economic outlook, says Pettit. Your next job, your career, fulfilling your lifelong dreams—all can revolve around the economic decisions you make.
“What we’re hoping is that they will be more aware of the choices they’re making and that life is a trade-off,” Pettit says. “I’m not saying you have to have money to be happy, but with any path you choose, it’s important to understand that you are making a choice and there is a cost. Economic education, done properly, makes that point.”
We bid farewell and express our gratitude to those members of the Eighth District boards of directors who retired in 2005. Our appreciation and best wishes go out to the following:
Sonja Yates Hubbard
Phillip N. Baldwin
Stephen M. Erixon
Raymond E. Skelton
Robert A. Young III
Cornelius A. Martin
Gordon B. Guess
John L. Huber
Norman E. Pfau Jr.
L. Clark Taylor Jr.
Steven E. Trager
Meredith B. Allen
Thomas G. Miller
David P. Rumbarger Jr.
Walter L. Metcalfe Jr.
Irl F. Engelhardt
Cynthia J. Brinkley
Paul T. Combs
Lewis F. Mallory Jr.
J. Thomas May
David R. Pirsein
A. Rogers Yarnell II
For the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2005 was a year marked by maintaining a standard of excellence in our day-to-day operations while also moving forward on some of the most important initiatives that are defining our present and our future.
The Treasury Relations and Support Office oversaw the successful completion of 24 of the Federal Reserve System’s 25 Treasury-related key objectives for the year. One of the major success stories was the TRSO’s launch of the national Go Direct campaign, focused on converting Social Security recipients to direct deposit.
The District’s Branching Out initiative maintained and improved upon its 2004 success, with an increase in programs and attendance as the District continued its focus on community affairs, economic education, regional research and monetary policy in our branch cities.
The St. Louis check operation performed well, and significant progress was made in stabilizing the Memphis check operation after the office absorbed the Little Rock check volume in late 2004. The new Little Rock cash depot performed extremely well during its first full year of operation. Our Memphis office provided key contingency support to the New Orleans office as a “buddy branch” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, providing paying and receiving services to the Sixth District via extended hours and weekend operations.
Our employees continued to focus on four Bank-wide initiatives begun in 1999-2000 to improve our performance and build our capability to do more in the future: risk management, customer service, staff development and employee communications. In addition, the Bank launched an organizational initiative in 2005 to improve innovation, with training and tools provided to employees to encourage a more innovative climate.
What follows are highlights of the District’s 2005 accomplishments:
>> Exceeded its revenue target by $3.6 million, or 10.7 percent.
>> Check 21 activity grew significantly throughout the year, and the District was the first in the Federal Reserve System to implement the entire Check 21 product suite.
>> Successfully assumed volume from the Atlanta Treasury Check site as part of a consolidation that is projected to save the Treasury $600,000.
U.S. Treasury Support
>> Implemented 11 application releases on the Treasury Web Application Infrastructure (TWAI) and an additional five releases on other platforms outside the TWAI.
>> The Treasury more than doubled the amount of funds invested through the Term Investment Option program over the previous fiscal year, earning an additional $19.2 million over what would have been earned had the funds been invested in the Treasury Tax and Loan program.
Public Affairs and Community Affairs
>> Community Affairs conducted 34 sponsored meetings, which included the finale of a community development speaker series in Little Rock, a Hispanic immigrant event in Louisville, a summit on accessing community development capital in St. Louis and a major conference in Memphis on entrepreneurship.
>> In economic education, St. Louis and the other three branch offices conducted or participated significantly in 62 conferences, workshops, training courses, presentations and other outreach events.
>> Conducted five economic forums, allowing President Bill Poole to interact with business and banking audiences throughout the District.
>> Helped create the Your Paycheck program to support financial literacy efforts. The program, delivered through a two-hour class taught by college students, covers financial information of interest to working teens.
Research/Monetary Policy Performance
>> The number of articles published by Research staff (or accepted for publication) was 58, up from 41 during 2004. In addition, staff economists finished 75 new working papers, up from 34 in 2004, with more than 30 additional articles revised from previous years.
>> Introduced the Archival FRED System (ALFRED), which helped contribute to a 40 percent increase in traffic on the division’s web pages compared with the previous year. ALFRED provides historical data of series already available in FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data).
>> The Business and Economic Research Group (BERG) held its first meeting in the spring. The papers from the meeting were published in a new web-only research journal titled Regional Economic Development.
>> Held a conference on education finance, in conjunction with the Weidenbaum Center of Washington University.
Banking Supervision, Credit and Center for Online Learning
>> Successfully met all examination and inspection mandates and provided highly effective supervision of District state member banks and bank holding companies.
>> Consumer Affairs conducted all 36 mandated supervisory events in accordance with System requirements. All supervisory reports were processed and communicated to constituents in a timely manner—33 percent faster than System guidelines.
>> The Center for Online Learning provided eLearning consultation and development services to numerous business lines and also contributed significant leadership to a strategic effort to better align Supervision examiner training with changing business needs.
>> Completed construction of the plaza and the new screening vestibule at the St. Louis office, as well as the design for the building addition in the second phase of the St. Louis remodeling project.
>> Constructed a new Protection command center.
>> Completed the renovation of the third floor of the Memphis branch.
>> Completed the rollout of the Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) initiative to nonfinancial reporting areas, with eight business areas assessing their risks using risk categories defined by the System’s ERM work group.
>> Continued efforts through the Customer Service Program Office to sustain a service-oriented culture throughout the District, with all divisions exceeding customer service targets.
>> Continued the focus on leadership development by implementing a mentoring program and offering more leadership training.
The financial letters, reports, notes and statements are only available as a PDF* (964kb).
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Summary of Key Operation Statistics for Services Provided to Depository Institutions and the U.S. Treasury (The following schedule is unaudited and has been included as supplemental information.)
(a) $4,928 less than what was reported in the 2004 annual report due to an adjustment.
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is one of 12 regional Reserve banks which, together with the Board of Governors, make up the nation’s central bank. The Fed carries out U.S. monetary policy, regulates certain depository institutions, provides wholesale-priced services to banks and acts as fiscal agent for the U.S. Treasury. The St. Louis Fed serves the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes all of Arkansas, eastern Missouri, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, western Kentucky, western Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Branch offices are located in Little Rock, Louisville and Memphis.
FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF ST. LOUIS
LITTLE ROCK BRANCH
Author of Essay: Laura J. Hopper
Contributing Writers: Scott Kelly and Glen Sparks
Editor: Stephen Greene
Designer: Kathie Lauher
Production: Barb Passiglia
Photography: Steve Smith Studios
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