Thursday, July 26, 2012

Living on the Edge

Check out this staggering statistic: Nearly two-fifths of American households are living paycheck to paycheck.

A recent report conducted by the Consumer Federation of America and the Consumer Planner Board of Standards, Inc. found that 38% of households live paycheck to paycheck, up from 31% in 1997. The report also found that almost half of American households are behind on retirement savings.

Similarly, a recent survey found that the financial security of Americans is deteriorating, and almost 40% of Americans feel less at ease about their savings than they did a year ago.

Living paycheck to paycheck is extremely risky. Any kind of financial blow, such as illness or job loss, would be devastating. About 46 million Americans are already living below the poverty line. But about 127.5 million people do not have enough money saved to weather a financial emergency and are just one mishap away from living in poverty as well.

However, it is important to note that financial planning is often the difference in whether or not a household will face financial distress. In the CFA/ CFP Board Survey, more than twice the percentage of respondents who identified themselves as planners, in comparison to those who did not have a financial plan, said they are living comfortably. This gap between planners and non- planners held true across income brackets.

This is why programs such as New Century IDA are so important. New Century IDA helps its clients transition from a pattern of consumption to one of savings. This is a behavior change that lasts a lifetime and helps people become more financially secure.

For more information read, “Living Paycheck to Paycheck is Reality for Two in Five Households: Report” by Khadeeja Safdar.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What is the Middle Class?

Do you consider yourself part of the “middle class?” Many Americans do.  With the political season heating up, the term “middle class” is being used more and more frequently. President Obama referred to the “middle class” 14 times in a recent speech!

Economic data suggests the middle class is actually shrinking. The White House chief economist Alan Krueger said in January that the middle class fell from 50% of households in January to 42% in 2010. More families are moving to the extreme ends of income distribution. But what does this mean? What is the middle class?

The Census Bureau divides household income in groups of 20%. Some economists define the middle class as those in the middle 20% of the distribution, which would be earning $38,000 to $61,000. Other economists say it includes the middle 60%, which would be earning between $20,000 and $100,000.

Another way to gauge class is by income tax bracket. The middle class is typically seen as falling in the 15% and 25% brackets, which would be families whose taxable income is between $17,400 and $142, 700.

Dennis Gilbert, a sociology professor at Hamilton College, says, “Politicians love to use the term, because it’s vague and connotes an image of regular American people.” As the election draws nearer, we will only hear this term more.

Here are a few varying interpretations of the current middle class:

  • President Obama: families making less than $250,000.

  • Mitt Romney: families making less than $200,000 (includes families who fall below the poverty line).

  • Council of Economic Advisors: people earning between $25,000 and $75,000.

  • Economists: people making between $20,000 and $100,000.

  • Americans in an ABC News poll: middle class means owning a home, being able to save for the future, and affording things like vacation travel, the occasional new car, and other luxuries.
For more information, read this article from the Winston-Salem Journal: "'Middle Class' Becomes an Indistinct Label in Politics."

How do you define the middle class? Do any of these definitions line up with your own interpretation? Let us know!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Healthy Homes: Drinking Water

This is the final post in our series on Healthy Homes.

Did you know that Americans drink more than a billion glasses of water a day?! We also  use water for many other daily tasks, like cleaning, cooking, and bathing.  That’s why it is so important to have clean water.

There are several things that could be in your water that would make it unsafe. They include bacteria and viruses, nitrate, lead and copper, and other chemicals such as pesticides.

It is important to know where your water comes from, so you know what action steps you should take to keep it healthy. If your water comes from a public water supply, it is tested for over 80 different chemicals before it reaches your home. The test results are available in the local newspaper, or you can contact your water utility for more information. However, the water can become unsafe before it gets to your home if it travels through lead or copper pipes.

Here are some tips on how to make sure your water is clean when it reaches your home.
  • Clear your pipes. If you haven’t used your water in a while, let cold water run for 2 or 3 minutes until you feel the temperature change. This will flush out water that has sat in the pipes and collected lead or copper.
  • Do not use hot water from the tap for cooking or drinking. The heat dissolves minerals faster.

If you have a private water supply, like a well, it is your responsibility to make sure your water is clean and safe.  You should test your water tested regularly. Here are some tips on how to protect a private water supply:

  • Make sure your well is uphill from  animal pens, manure, dumps, and places where chemicals are stored.
  • If your well is older than 20 years, the water may need to be tested more often.
  • Keep your well in good shape. Make sure the casing sticks up above the ground. There should be no gaps or spaces between the well casing and the soil around it.
  • Be sure there is not a low area near the well where rainwater can collect.
  • Don’t keep gas, oil, weed killer, or other chemicals in your well house.
 If you have any questions, you should contact your local water company, your local Cooperative Extension Office, or EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 or

Thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Healthy Homes Initiative for providing these tips.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Healthy Homes: Lead Paint

This is the 4th post in our series on Healthy Homes.

Lead poisoning is a serious health threat, especially for children, so it is important to know if your home has lead paint in or around it. If there is lead paint in your home, children can be poisoned easily. Bits of paint too small to see can chip off windows, doors, and walls, creating dust.

Even though laws have been passed to ban lead paint in household paint, many older homes still have lead in them.

Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself and your children from lead poisoning. If your home was built before 1978, you should have it tested. The local or state health department can tell you how to do this.

If you discover there is lead in your home, don’t try to remove it on your own. Contact your local or state health department to find a certified lead paint removal company.

Here are some other tips for protecting your children from lead:

  • Wash your children’s hands and faces often, and especially before they eat.
  • Don’t let children chew on windowsills. Keep cribs away from windowsills and walls.
  • When you haven’t used water for a few hours or overnight, let the cold water run for a few minutes before using it again. This clears out any water that may have collected lead while sitting in the pipes.
  • Have soil tested for lead.
  • If someone in your home works with lead, make sure they shower and change clothes and shoes before coming inside. Wash those clothes by themselves. They can bring the lead home in their clothes.
Have you ever tested your home for lead? Let us know if you have found lead in your home and what steps you take to keep your family healthy!

Thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Healthy Homes Initiative for providing these tips. Check back tomorrow for more tips on healthy homes!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Healthy Homes: Carbon Monoxide

This is the third post in our series on Healthy Homes.

The scary thing about carbon monoxide is that you can not see, taste, feel, or smell it. However, it is dangerous and can be deadly. But there are steps you can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning!

First, it is important to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, sleepiness, and trouble breathing.

Second, it is important to know what you can do to prevent carbon monoxide from building up in your home.  Some tips are listed below.

  • Never use charcoal grills or run engines inside your home.
  • Never warm up a vehicle inside the garage.
  • Have a heating contractor check your furnace and chimneys every fall.
  • Make sure your chimney is in good shape, clean, and working properly. Burning wood produces carbon monoxide, so it is important to make sure all of the smoke goes out the chimney.
  • Never use the kitchen stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Turn on the kitchen exhaust fan when using a nonelectric oven or stove.

Finally, the most important tip: Install carbon monoxide alarms near each sleeping area and on each floor of your home. A carbon monoxide alarm will sound when carbon monoxide levels become too high. If the alarm goes off, get outside immediately and call your local emergency number.

Thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Healthy Homes Initiative for providing these tips. Check back tomorrow for more tips on healthy homes!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Healthy Homes: Mold and Moisture

This is the second post in our series on Healthy Homes.

At some point, you have probably seen mold or moisture somewhere around your home. But did you know that it is alive?! It grows on wet or damp surfaces, so if you live in a damp climate you probably have to work even harder to prevent mold from growing in your home. It’s important to fix moisture problems to prevent mold from growing because mold can cause health problems, such as watery eyes, sneezing, trouble breathing, and headaches.

Some common areas that have mold are bathrooms, wet or damp basements, leaky sinks, on wet clothes that are not dried quickly, and in your air conditioner.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent mold from growing in your home:
  • Use downspouts to direct rainwater away from your house.
  • Repair leaking roofs, walls, doors, or windows.
  • Store clothes and towels clean and dry.
  • Run a fan while bathing or showering.
  • Run a fan vent to the outside when cooking.
  • Use a dehumidifier to dry out damp areas.
  • Throw away wet carpeting, insulating, and other things that are very wet for more than two days.

If you already have mold in your home, here are some steps you can take to clean up the mold.
  • Scrub hard surfaces with a mix of laundry detergent or dish soap and water.
  • Rinse the area with clean water and dry quickly.
You may be wondering what mold looks like. Here is an example of mold growing on  bathroom ceiling.

If you have more than 15 square feet of mold, it’s best to hire a professional to remove it. If you have further questions about mold, you can contact the Cooperative Extension Service or your local health department. The Forsyth County Department of Public Health can be reached at 703-3100.

Thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Healthy Homes Initiative for providing these tips. Check back tomorrow for more tips on healthy homes!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Healthy Homes: Air Quality

This is Part 1 of our blog series on Healthy Homes.

Did you know that people spend over 90% of their time indoors? That is why it is so important to have healthy air in your home. It is not always easy to tell if your home has healthy air, but here are a few steps you can take to cut down on pollution in your home.

  • Test for radon. You can buy low- cost radon test kits at hardware or home supply stores. You can also call the local or state health department for more information. The number for the Forsyth County Department of Health is 336-703-3100.
  • Do not smoke in your home.
  • Open windows or use fans to let in fresh air when you use chemicals in your home.
  • If you get new carpet, ask the salesperson to unroll the carpet and let it air for one day before bringing it into your home. Install new carpet during a season when you can open the windows for several days afterward.
  • Let new furniture and building materials air out for a few days before bringing them inside.
  • Look into using products that are made with nontoxic chemicals and materials.
Thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Healthy Homes Initiative for providing these tips. Check back tomorrow for more tips on healthy homes!