For all of the conversation this week about Mitt Romney’s views on federal income taxes and personal responsibility, his insistence that ‘‘I have inherited nothing’’ may be the most thought-provoking.
His comment, which was among those he made in the video of a fund-raiser that Mother Jones magazine posted Monday, has inspired a few skeptical reactions, given his privileged background. But the comment speaks to an often unspoken distinction among families that can determine who gets ahead, who gets along, and who merely scrapes by.
Some parents help their adult children financially, while others cannot or do not.
This living inheritance comes in many forms. It can exist from the free room and board for a 23-year-old intern to a stay of years for a 43-year-old single parent who has lost a job or recently divorced. The contribution can be as small as a first month’s rent or as large as the 25 years of payments that many parents now make on college loans they took out so their children would not have to.
The less help you have as an adult starting out, the harder you have to work to make the next geographic, career, and economic step up.
Parents who provide financial help often speak in the language of necessity. To Karen Kline in Orinda, Calif., the idea of her lawyer son and graphic designer daughter not having health insurance was ‘‘unacceptable.’’ So she paid for it until they qualified for the benefit at their jobs. Kline, now 63 years old, has savings and will retire in two months with a pension, so she was able to afford the help.
Many young adults don’t have families that can cushion their entry into adulthood. Jenna Leigh Wilson has just over $100,000 of student loan debt after earning degrees from Villanova and the University of Pennsylvania. Her mother died three years ago of breast cancer, she still has three siblings in college or younger and her father can't help her financially.
Wilson, now a 27-year-old high school history teacher, is able to manage the debt thanks to the federal program that allows her to make student loan payments based on what she can afford. Any remaining balance will be waived in another decade or two depending on whether she sticks with full-time teaching.
There could be another option even for people who can’t count on an inheritance or a loan from their parents. Forward-thinking families might consider establishing a loan pool, a concept that was new to me until I heard about it this week.
‘‘It started when my grandmother died,’’ said George Lewis, 82, a lawyer in Quincy, Ill., one of nine siblings who grew up on a small farm and all graduated from the University of Illinois. ‘‘She had a strong belief in education. Because of her, instead of flowers, we started a fund for college scholarships.’’
Today, the nearly 50-year-old fund actually lends money interest-free, and it is now available to scores of members of the extended clan. Any family could mimic this pretty easily and hand out loans to young adults in a number of circumstances.