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Summer jobs program teaches ABCs of debit

John Egan

High school students traditionally take classes in English, math, science and social studies, but in Baltimore, youths in the city’s summer jobs program are learning how to handle plastic.

The plastic is in the form of a debit card, which for the first time replaces payment by paper check.

Times sure have changed. When I was in high school, no one taught us a thing about how to pay bills, create a personal budget or cope with credit card debt. In my case, that task fell to Mom.

Now young Baltimore residents are being paid with plastic and using an app to find ATMs where the cards can be used to withdraw money.

Other experiences in plastic
Baltimore’s YouthWorks summer employment program isn’t the first to give summer workers plastic instead of paper. Washington, D.C., doled out debit cards in 2008 and New York City’s program disbursed plastic in 2016 and is doing so again this summer.

In Baltimore, money will be loaded onto a youth worker’s card during each pay period.

“It looks just like the debit card that’s in your pocket, and it will have their name on it. It will have a unique number just like your debit card does,” Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, said at a recent news conference.

Just like a regular debit card, the YouthWorks card can be swiped at stores, restaurants and other locations to pay for purchases, and to get extra cash back.

If a worker decides against using the card for withdrawals or purchases, he or she can write old-fashioned checks that are provided or can transfer funds to an existing bank account.

Establishing a solid financial footing
Undoubtedly, the YouthWorks debit card will be the first debit card that some of these students have ever carried.

“We know that income and security is really a root of a lot of the issues we have in the city, and so we want to start with our young people and help them establish a solid financial footing,” Courtney Bettle, program manager for financial security at the nonprofit Baltimore CASH Campaign, said at the news conference.

That solid financial footing includes the direct deposit of paychecks into the debit card account. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said that payday payment method is preferable to cash or checks.

“I know that I do direct deposit, and one of the great things of direct deposit is that more money stays in than goes out,” Pugh told reporters. “If it’s in your hand, you’re ready to spend it, and I think this gives them an opportunity to save.”

Opportunity is the operative word here for the program’s more than 8,300 summertime workers ages 14 to 21.

The city of Baltimore should be commended for providing thousands of youths the opportunity to learn financial lessons that so many of us didn’t (or don’t) learn in school.

See related: Financial illiteracy has cost me thousands, What millennials can teach us about credit

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