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Washington, D.C. – Financial illiteracy is a problem we need to take seriously in this country, according to U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt and Enzi's colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee agreed as they discussed the problem at a Senate Banking Committee hearing today.

"Financial literacy is something that is needed over a broad range of income levels. No matter how much one earns, money management is a necessity. It is something we need to begin emphasizing in grade school and continue all of the way through high school. It shouldn't stop there. Financial education should be something we continue for our entire lives," said Enzi.

Enzi cited a national survey that reported 82 percent of high school seniors failed a basic personal finance quiz and he said the collapse of Enron is also an indicator of the urgent need for money management education.

Enzi said schools in Wyoming and private organizations are working to solve the problem.

"Wyoming has a requirement that students must demonstrate proficiency in financial management skills before graduating from high school," he said. "I am also encouraged to see the increase in public-private partnerships. For instance, in my home state the Wyoming Community Development Authority and Fannie Mae have joined to educate on first time home buying. In addition, UNIWYO, a credit union in Laramie, Wyoming has begun a program through the National Endowment for Financial Education to educate their membership. These types of programs have proven very effective in educating the public in the areas of finance."

Enzi said federal, state and local governments can also make a contribution to the financial literacy effort. Last year, during the Elementary and Secondary Education Act legislation, Senators Enzi and Jon Corzine, D-N.J., teamed up to offer legislation that allowed financial literacy programs as an allowable expense under the Local Innovative Education Programs. This amendment was accepted and the bill was signed into law this year by President Bush.

The text of Enzi's full statement follows.


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Statement of Sen. Mike Enzi Regarding Financial Literacy
Senate Banking Committee
February 5, 2002

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing. I would also like to thank our very distinguished panel. I know you all have very busy schedules, and I appreciate your taking the time to offer your insights on this subject. I think the fact that you've taken the time to come here today highlights the importance of this issue.

It is imperative that we focus on financial literacy. While we continue to provide incentives for additional education, I believe financial education is an area where we lack focus.

However, we have seen improvements. I am encouraged to see the increase in public-private partnerships. For instance, in my home state the Wyoming Community Development Authority and Fannie Mae have joined to educate on first time home buying. In fact, they are about to service their 1,000th customer in Wyoming. In addition, UNIWYO, a credit union in Laramie, Wyoming has begun a program through the National Endowment for Financial Education to educate their membership. These types of programs have proven very effective in educating the public in the areas of finance. I applaud all of the financial institutions who have taken it upon themselves to reach out in their communities to provide financial literacy programs.

I'm proud that Wyoming acknowledges the need for financial literacy. Wyoming has requirements that students must demonstrate proficiency in financial management skills before graduating from high school. This is compared to a national survey in which 82% of high school seniors failed a personal finance quiz.

The Enron situation has raised the profile of financial literacy. With so many employees losing their retirements through their 401(k) plans, we need to remind employees and emphasize to them not to put all of their eggs in one basket. Those employees needed to diversify their retirements, but unfortunately they trusted the same executives who were over-inflating the company's profits while paying themselves millions of dollars in compensation. These employees would be in much better financial condition had they moved some of their stock into safer, long-term investments.

I do believe that the federal, state, and local governments can and should do more to assist in this endeavor. Last year, during the Elementary and Secondary Education Authorization legislation, Senators Corzine and I offered legislation that allowed financial literacy programs an allowable expense under the Local Innovative Education Programs. I'm happy to say that this amendment was accepted and was signed into law last year by President Bush.

Financial literacy is something that is needed over a broad range of income levels. No matter how much one earns, money management is a necessity. It is something we need to begin emphasizing in grade school and continue all of the way through high school. It shouldn't stop there. Financial education should be something we continue to concentrate on for our entire lives.

Again, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding a hearing on this most important topic. I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panel, and I look forward to working with you on this in the future.