Column One: Students

September 18, 1991 2 min read

American teenagers graduate from high school seriously deficient in the consumer knowledge they need to thrive financially, a study released last week concludes.

In a nationwide survey on consumer savvy, the 428 seniors tested could answer only 42 percent of the multiple-choice questions correctly, according to the Consumer Federation of America and the American Express Travel Related Services Company. On the same test, adults averaged 16 percentage points higher.

Students scored lowest on questions concerning how to shop for a loan, what to look for in automobile insurance, and the difference between checking and savings accounts. But even higher scores--like the 62 percent who knew that national brands not on sale tend to be the most expensive food items--were disappointing, the study points out.

Moreover, the students who scored lowest, poor members of minority groups, are the ones most likely to enter the adult consumer world directly after graduation, the authors note.

Edwin M. Cooperman, chairman and chief executive officer of American Express T.a.s. Company, said at a press conference last week that the gaps in students’ knowledge hurt the economy as well as the youths themselves.

Undiscerning consumers, he said, thwart the growth of industries seeking to produce better products for less money. That, in turn, hurts American manufacturing on the international market.

The study urges educators to integrate consumer literacy into the basic school curriculum.

To receive a copy of the study, send $5 to Consumer Federation of America, 1424 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

A Phoenix insurance salesman has stirred controversy with an unusual pitch: selling life insurance to parents of gang members.

DRJ & Associates Inc. last month began distributing brochures that show a picture of an open coffin and state: “Is this an expense you’re prepared for?”

Donald Jones, owner of the company, said he got the idea for the campaign after a church went door to door soliciting contributions for the burial expenses for two reputed gang members.

“To me, that’s wrong,” he said. “Nobody is telling these people to put their house in order.”

But the effort drew fire from some community leaders, who charged Mr. Jones with exploiting the parents’ misery.

Jones conceded the sales pitch is a hard sell, but said, “In cases like this, the self sell does not work.”

He added that he has made at least two dozen sales from the campaign. --j.w. & n.n.

A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 1991 edition of Education Week as Column One: Students