Millennials and Money: Where Financial Literacy Failed

Looking back on your high school days, you probably remember lessons like long division or the day you finally mastered a cursive “Q.” But what about the class where you learned to balance a checkbook? Or apply for a car loan? While Baby Boomers were more likely to reap the benefits of a home economics class covering life skills and simple financial planning, Millennials are now facing a devastating education gap when it comes to basic financial literacy. Now, a pair of Worcester natives are on a mission to target this educational blind spot and help money management make sense to our future business leaders—before it’s too late.

Recent Clark University graduate, Rebecca Liebman, and her brother Michael, are harnessing the power of the Internet to tackle the problem of financial illiteracy among Millennials. They are planning to launch a website called, which would give Millennials the tools to control and understand their financial futures. Michael Liebman, LearnLux president, is currently majoring in finance at Bentley University, but his passion for figures extends back as far as age seven, when, according to their website, he “proclaimed [ . . . ] that his favorite thing to do was count money.”

“The 19–35-year-old demographic has the worst national average for credit scores.”

pigThe lack of financial literacy among Millennials has resulted in some frightening statistics. Research by the credit information service, Experian, has revealed that the 19–35-year-old demographic has the worst national average for credit scores, and a significantly unfavorable debt-to-income ratio than any previous generation. According to a recent poll by the Brookings Institution, about 50% of college freshmen surveyed are incorrect or entirely ignorant of the amount of student loan debt they carry. While many hypotheses have been put forward as to the cause of the lapse in financial education for Millennials, the takeaway is clear: Millennials must be taught to manage their own money before they can competently take the helm of larger financial responsibilities.

LearnLux’s founders may have a better handle on their finances than many of their peers, but that doesn’t mean they’re taking on this challenge alone. Their innovative approach to financial education for young adults has convinced the MassChallenge startup accelerator to select LearnLux as one of its 128 finalists for 2015. While the program is still in its testing phases, it seems clear that these young entrepreneurs are well on their way to bridging the gap in Millennial financial literacy.

Massachusetts Colleges Team Up to Create a Bright Future in the Photonics Industry

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Worcester’s Quinsigamond Community College will be teaming up with SUNY Polytechnic Institute and several other educational institutions on a Federal project to advance the applications the photonics industry in manufacturing. The partnership, known as Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0, represents $600 million in Federal funds which will go toward establishing the nation’s first Integrated Photonics Institute of Manufacturing Innovation.

Massachusetts will be teaming up with educational institutions across the nation, utilizing the Commonwealth’s higher educational strengths to explore the applications of the photonics industry in manufacturing. MIT will lead in the development of cutting-edge technology such as robotics and complex medical devices. Meanwhile, Quinsigamond will provide practical training for the development of a middle-skill workforce that will be ready to fulfill a growing number of job opportunities in the manufacturing industry as a whole.

“Massachusetts is a key partner because of the technical expertise of the faculty and researchers here at MIT, and in part, because AIM photonics MIT is coordinating the education and workforce development program for the entire nation in this area,” said Krystyn Van Vliet, a professor of materials science and engineering and MIT’s faculty lead for the project.

The American Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) began an integrated photonics program in July that was announced by Vice President Joe Biden. The AIM integrated photonics program is one of nine such institutions dedicated to different areas of the manufacturing field.

hisotric industryMassachusetts has a long tradition of manufacturing and industrial production. Although textiles and mills may be a thing of the past, burgeoning industries have provided a new realm of opportunity for a state that is already familiar with manufacturing and its challenges. New tech sectors such as biotechnology, wearable devices, and robotics, combined with easy access to the educated work force needed to produce them, has put the Bay State in a favorable position to spearhead the development of future technologies.

“This partnership is key to developing the revolutionary technologies that will underpin the next wave of advanced manufacturing in Massachusetts and ensure the competitiveness of our manufacturing sector as a whole. We are harnessing education and innovation to build a platform for economic growth across Massachusetts. I look forward to seeing the continued great work from our Commonwealth’s innovation and education communities, and [to] participating in this national center with our neighbors in New York,” said Governor Charlie Baker.

The partnership serves as a part of Baker’s ongoing commitment to advancing the manufacturing industry within Massachusetts. Continued growth in the manufacturing sector will lead to new opportunities for everything from electronic design and manufacturing equipment, to medical devices, robotics, cyber security, and more. Van Vliet predicts that the AIM initiative will begin actively producing new technologies and opportunities for advanced manufacturing as early as January 2016.

Public Housing Pushes Residents Toward A Better Life

Ray Mariano, executive director of the Worcester Housing Authority (WHA) and former four-term mayor of Worcester is on a mission to point individuals and families currently residing in public housing toward “A Better Life.”

A Better Life (ABL)

ABL is a program designed to encourage upward mobility for public housing tenants; challenging them to reach goals, become educated, secure employment, and to make better healthcare and financial choices.

Though the program was voluntary when instituted in 2011, it has since been made compulsory for some residents within the WHA system.

ABL HousingThe ABL program requires one adult in each household to work or attend school for a minimum of 1,200 hours per year, which is an average of 23 hours per week. Support services to reach for these goals are provided through grants as part of the program. If the residents do not make an effort to abide by the program rules within three years, they face eviction. The disabled and elderly are not a part of the mandatory participation program, so they will not be compelled to leave public housing.

The Cititzen’s Housing and Planning Association recently submitted a bill to the Legislature this past July, which would bring ABL to five housing authorities around the state. Some officials question the morality of making self-sufficiency programs mandatory. Mariano points to the statistics from the last three years as evidence of the program’s effectiveness. Only 36% of ABL participants were employed when the program first began. Since then, the percentage of employed participants has more than doubled. Additionally, the percentage of tenants going to school has tripled.

ABL Opposition

While political opposition can no longer prevent the implementation of mandatory participation, some tenants and community members are still at odds with ABL. Mariano, who grew up in Great Brook Valley—the same area currently targeted for the mandatory ABL program—is faced with the difficult mission of encouraging people in his community to embrace the change.

Feeling that it unfairly targets single Latino mothers and their children, the detractors point out that Mariano’s own 2012 statistics show that 89% of families in Great Brook Valley are headed by single females. Mariano has countered that ABL can help these families by making it possible for single mothers to get an education; many will also be eligible for childcare vouchers.

Latino familyThe Bigger Picture

While many families have been in WHA public housing for generations, many needy families are waiting to get in. By enabling those in public housing to make efforts to rise out of their current situation through education and gainful employment, those currently in need of safe and affordable housing will be able to get off of the waiting lists, out of homelessness, and into housing. Worcester currently faces a crisis, with over 5,000 people on the applicant waiting list for public housing. In order to provide those individuals and families with much-needed help, those currently in the WHA system need to make strides to move into self-sufficient lifestyles. Mariano believes that ABL is the right program to help them grow.

Public housing problems like these aren’t unique, but Worcester’s new mandatory BL program makes a statement. With people on both sides of the debate, Mass Business Blog wants your opinion. Do you have any stories or reactions to this program? Please share your thoughts on social media (and tag us so we can respond!) or write your comments below. Community conversations matter.

The Push for a Graduated Income Tax in Massachusetts

Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition representing religious leaders, liberal community organizers, and unions, is advocating a constitutional amendment to raise income taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents. The proposal, which would affect those earning more than $1 million annually, would reportedly bring in additional revenue of up to $1.4 billion per year.

The Massachusetts Communities Action Network, one of the coalition’s co-chairs, has indicated that the additional revenue would be earmarked for education and transportation, two areas where a number of needs have gone unmet over the past decade.


Raise Up Massachusetts has previously lobbied the state legislature to raise the minimum wage and was successful with a ballot initiative that required employers to provide earned sick time to their workers. The constitutional amendment process, however, will take three years and will most likely face fierce opposition for anti-tax groups.

All Massachusetts residents currently pay a flat 5.15% income tax that will reportedly decrease to 5%. The “Fair Share Amendment,” as it’s called by its proponents, would raise taxes to 9% for those earning more than $1 million annually. The 9% rate would only apply on income over $1 million. Approximately 14,000 tax payers would be affected by the proposal, which comes at a time when legislators are renewing efforts to require those with higher income to take a greater responsibility in the taxation process. The “Fair Share” moniker comes from the fact that low and middle income taxpayers contribute more of their disposable income under a flat-rate system than the most affluent taxpayers.

kid writingProponents say the increased taxes could fund road and bridge reconstruction, investment in the MBTA and other regional transit bodies, and education funding— particularly for early intervention and post-high-school initiatives. Since 2002, state funding for education has failed to keep up with inflation, resulting in cutbacks in many school districts.

Opponents say that the proposal, if passed, would drive wealthy individuals away from Massachusetts. Voters have previously rejected ballot initiatives to move from a flat tax to a graduated income tax rate. A 1994 vote defeated a graduated tax rate with a 9.8 top rate, while a ballot question to establish a graduated income tax in 1972 was also defeated.

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Massachusetts Tanning Ban Has Teens Seeing Red

Massachusetts legislators have initiated a push to make it illegal for teens under the age of 18 to use or operate tanning beds. A bill requiring tanning salon employees and patrons to be 18 or older, An Act Further Regulating Tanning Facilities, was passed without contest in the Massachusetts House last week. Ten states in the US have similar laws already in place, but the current campaign in Massachusetts has been met with some heated debate.

Tanning: A Well-Known Risk

There is no argument against the fact that sunless tanning under high-intensity UV bulbs has been proven to increase the likelihood of certain skin cancers. The risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, increases by 74% when individuals use indoor tanning beds. Studies show that nearly 30% of white female high school students use tanning beds, and 17% use them regularly. According to Senator James Timilty, co-chairman of the public safety committee, much of the UV exposure that leads to skin cancer is incurred in the childhood and teenage years. Diagnoses of melanoma have gone up 200% since 1973.
tan bed 3

Requirements of the Tanning Ban

If successful, the Massachusetts tanning ban would require teens between the ages of 16 and 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Young adults under the age of 16 will need a “written prescription from a physician” in order to tan—a script not many doctors are likely to ever hand out. The contention surrounding the tanning booth debate centers on what many consider to be an overreach by the “nanny state.”

Under the current state law, teenagers between the ages of 14–17 must present a written copy of parental consent before they are allowed to tan. Adherence to this regulation is predictably inconsistent. Not only can teenagers forge a note from Mom or Dad, but many establishments may not even bother asking for one. If the proposed bill is passed into law, teenagers will need to bring their parents along with them if they want to sun themselves indoors.

Is the Massachusetts Tanning Ban Unfair?

There are those who feel the ban would be an overreach by the state, interfering with a parent’s right to determine what is best for their child. Proprietors of tanning salons have pointed to a potential loss in business as a reason not to pass the new restrictions.

Proponents of the ban claim that banning teens from using tanning beds is a necessary step for ensuring teen health. Is it essential for teens to have access to a luxury service that radically alters their appearance and introduces them to the cosmetic trends of adults? Supporters of the ban believe that setting stricter limits on teen access to tanning is the only responsible option.

Your Turn!

What do you think? Do you allow your teenager to use tanning beds? Why or why not? Comment below.


Will Massachusetts Solar Net Metering Caps Continue?

Solar energy is thriving in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, but the clean energy trend has slowed considerably due to the current cap on solar net metering. Contributing to the decrease is the imminent expiration of Federal incentives for installation of solar energy. Solar net metering allows customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed their surplus into the grid, calculated as a percentage of peak electrical usage.

Solar Net Metering Caps Create Backlog

The current caps particularly affect the MetroWest service grid, which is already buying back the maximum amount of solar-produced electricity produced by commercial customers required by state law. This situation has created a waiting list of commercial customers who would like to install solar panel systems but are delaying installation until the caps are raised to make the projects economically viable.

Local business leaders have expressed hope that the solar net metering caps will soon be raised. In late June, the Massachusetts Senate voted 37–0 to raise the caps to 1,600 megawatts, up from the current caps of 1,000 and accounting for approximately 4–5% of the total energy generated statewide. The decision was passed as a part of a larger climate change preparedness bill. Another positive indicator is Governor Charlie Baker’s recent announcement that he plans to file legislation regarding the caps.

Solar Panels Collonial

Solar Detractors Speak Up

Not everyone is in favor of the solar initiative. Associated Industries of Massachusetts has spoken out against the Senate’s move, indicating it could add up to $600 million to the total electric bills of Massachusetts customers who do not have access to solar power. The group has indicated a lift in the solar net metering caps would only put money back into the pockets of the companies installing the solar arrays. Solar advocates say that AIM did not take into consideration the benefits associated with solar energy and merely weighed the up-front costs. Massachusetts has the fifth highest electricity cost in the continental United States.

Unless the Federal government acts, incentives for businesses that adopt solar energy systems will be scaled down in December 2016 and Federal incentives for residential projects will be eliminated. The incentives have spurred the Massachusetts solar industry as the state ranked second in 2014 with 9,400 solar industry jobs. The cost of installing solar arrays has come down in recent years, making them more feasible even without incentives.
Although the initial cost of installation has gone down, solar supporters advocate that it is still too early to remove government incentives as a motivating factor.

Will Aging Infrastructure Prevent Massachusetts Business Growth?

Massachusetts is known for its convoluted roadways and aggressive drivers. Its residents are no stranger to the aging infrastructure that transforms their daily commutes into heroic efforts of driving prowess and cunning. The roads are both difficult to navigate and dangerous to traverse— full of potholes and spans of structurally deficient bridges. Repairs are underway throughout the state on bridges, highways and tunnels, which only seems to add hours in detours and traffic as unsound areas are brought up to meet standards. While progress is being made, the work that has occurred has only made a small dent in Massachusetts’ transportation system woes, and is further affecting timely delivery of goods, commuting times, and the overall appeal of the state as a location to do business.

The New England Council, a business advocacy group, has expressed concern over the congestion caused by road construction, as these type of inconveniences are often a factor in whether companies stay and expand or leave a region. At the moment, 20 tunnel projects and over 250 road reconstruction and resurfacing projects have entered the design phase, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Whether these projects will occur, and when, is another story. If approved, these repairs would happen in addition to projects like the ongoing initiative to repair more than 450 bridges. Initially a $3 billion project, it is now predicted to cost a total of $14.4 billion by the time the statewide repairs are completed.

Somerville Street in Blizzard Nemo-

Massachusetts has been experiencing a notable increase in economic growth over the last five years, however businesses are concerned about the timely delivery of goods and services. In a fast-paced economy, meeting deadlines with a tight turnaround time is a key factor of success. Delays and detours ultimately affect the bottom line.

The difficulties commuters faced last winter, between impassable roads, service delays, and cancellations of the MBTA, has business owners worried about the reliability of their employees as well. Dilapidated infrastructure could potentially keep top job candidates from considering working in certain areas. Efforts are being made to overhaul the financial management of the MBTA, as a panel convened by Gov. Charlie Baker in April predicted that the MBTA’s revenue shortfall would total $560 Million by 2020 if changes are not made.

rough roadAlthough business and state leaders agree that Massachusetts’ infrastructure needs refurbishing, the means to pay for these improvements remains uncertain. Maintenance has been deferred multiple times due to lapses in funding, leading to obsolete equipment and crumbling roadways full of potholes. Gasoline taxes have traditionally paid for road and bridge projects, but voters have not approved an increase in the gas tax since 1993.

What do you think? Does the current Infrastructure impact Massachusetts business growth in YOUR sector or does it simply add to the Old England charm?

What’s Really at Stake in the Verizon Union Strike?

Verizon unions along the East Coast are at their wits’ end with the company due to lengthy negotiations over cost cutting measures that they believe will threaten their job security. The old contract had expired as of August 1st, but no work stoppage has been initiated yet. If talks continue in the same manner, the unions have stated that they may have no choice but to strike.

What’s at Stake?

Unions are claiming that the top Verizon executives have been awarded a quarter of a billion dollars in the last few years and, as a whole, the service provider has made $18 billion in profits over the last year and a half. When bargaining started on June 22nd of this summer, Verizon proposed to raise health care costs by thousands of dollars, and threatened union workers’ job security by eliminating constraints on hiring non-union workers. It has been stated that the company wants to reduce overtime pay, as well as remove any restrictions on their ability to offshore union jobs. The company’s administration has expressed frustration that both parties have still not come to a concise resolution following a recent legitimate rebuttal to the union demands.

verizon girl

Preparation Movements During Talks

The Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who represent about 37,000 Verizon employees, are not ready to back down. They claim that Verizon has been planning for this by training managers and hiring contract workers throughout the negotiation process, demonstrating that they are anticipating a long strike. But, for now, union workers will continue to be on the job despite Verizon’s apparent preparations.

The Next Step

Unions will continue to put the pressure on Verizon to decide on a fair contract soon. The negotiations for the last contract went on for 16 months, and both parties want to avoid a repeat experience. This agreement only applies to wireline technicians and call center staff from Massachusetts to Virginia. It also affects 150 employees of Verizon Wireless that are part of the Communications Workers of America union. If the bargaining continues much longer without an agreement, both sides are ready to stand against each other.

Massachusetts Cracks Down on Misclassified Independent Contractors

Economic growth and the power of the Internet have ignited rapid proliferation of startup companies across the US. Services like Uber have typically been filling their ranks with drivers who are employed as independent contractors rather than full employees. However, in Massachusetts the law regarding the classification of workers as independent contractors is relatively strict, and it seems many of these new age business moguls have been cutting corners in the hiring process, which raises some interesting questions about the legality of their employment models.

What Separates an Employee from an Independent Contractor?

proceed with cautionBusiness of all sizes tend to prefer independent contractors for several reasons. Workers hired as IC are not entitled to benefits like health insurance, overtime, and paid sick time or vacation; which saves the employing company a significant amount of money year over year. On the other hand, workers are willing to forego the usual employee benefits and sign on as independent contractors because their paychecks will not have taxes withheld by employers. The lack of immediate taxation has motivated the US Department of Labor, the IRS, and the state of Massachusetts to begin investigating misclassified workers with more zeal.

Massachusetts requires independent contractors to fulfill three conditions in order to be classified as such:

(1) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under his contract for the performance of service and in fact

(2) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer

(3) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.

To qualify as an independent contractor, all three conditions of the law must be met. The problem is that many companies are hiring “independent contractors” who do not meet one or any of these criteria. This might save money at first, but could also incur heavy financial penalties. For instance, a cable company recently had to pay $1.075 Million for misclassifying cable installers, while a texting service had to hand over $1.3 Million for misclassifying “special agents” who answer text messages from web users.  Misclassifying independent contractors also leaves the business at the mercy of their workers who may be legally savvy enough to pursue a claim in the event of a disagreement.

Businesses Are Getting Busted

pinocchioIn fact, thousands of charges have been brought up against companies for misclassifying employees in response to complaints filed by workers who were seeking to collect unpaid overtime. The US Department of Labor has created a Misclassification Initiative website where workers can file a complaint. Several industries are squarely in the crosshairs as the most notorious misclassification culprits, including construction, nursing, internet services, transportation, cable, security, landscaping, and car services such as valets or limousines.

Several growing companies have begun to alter their hiring model, converting independent contractors into full or part-time employees. Luxe Valet, an on-demand parking service, recently re-classified their workers as employees, though the decision was apparently not motivated by the flood of lawsuits that many employers are facing. There are also a few recent exceptions to the classification rules.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions of the real estate licensing and registration scheme outweighs the state law regarding independent contractors. Massachusetts state law was once again overruled in July when a court decided that delivery services are entitled to hire independent contractors as drivers, despite the fact that delivery would fall under “the usual course of business of the employer.”
While Massachusetts law may be stricter than any other state requirements, it does not mean there is no place for independent contractors in the Massachusetts economy. The goal is not to eradicate this type of hiring, but to ensure that it is not being abused. Workers should be wary before signing a contract that would label them as an independent contractor, while companies would do well to remember how much it would cost if their “frugal hiring” strategy were ever discovered by the state.

TechSandBox Targets Unusual Demographic of Entrepreneurs with the Techubator

Hopkinton may soon be the home to a new start-up program for entrepreneurs, inviting not at the expected demographic of up-and-coming Millennials, but rather their parents, to join the startup revolution. This bucolic haven, snuggled in a collection of small communities and serene lakes, might not seem like a likely place for business innovation— but it is already home to one of the area’s biggest tech companies, EMC, and start-up accelerator program, TechSandbox. Barb Finer, founder of TechSandbox, is currently in talks with angel investors to gather together the $1 million necessary to get the newest program up and running.

The new program, called Techubator, would target entrepreneurs in their 40s and 50s, rather than the usual crowd of recent college graduates. The structure is loosely based on a similar company, Techstars of Boulder, Colorado. In exchange for a 6% equity, eight startups would be given 3 to 4 months of training, a co-working space, and an investment of $18,000. Employees for each venture are provided with educational programs and mentorship opportunities.

TechSandBox understands the difficulties facing new business creators. Their Piranha Pond concept has already made strides in helping entrepreneurs from the Metrowest area over the past three years. The new Techubator initiative would specifically target middle-aged entrepreneurs in the process developing prototypes for tech products.

Techubator will be designated to help a demographic that may not have the same advantages as the Millennial crowd when it comes to growing up in an entrepreneurial environment. Younger entrepreneurs have the advantage of being more at home with a typically younger crowd of business investors.  Some of the older entrepreneurs Techubator will target are launching start-ups late in life because they lost a job in another industry. Some are “reluctant entrepreneurs,”; people who have ideas but delayed pursuing investors because they don’t feel that they “fit in” with the typical innovation crowd. Serial entrepreneurs who have been around the block, but may need that little extra help to get initial momentum are also the perfect candidates for this program.

TechSandBox is working hard to make this exciting idea a reality. The company has set a fundraising goal of $1 million to support its new program, as well as an additional $500,000 to expand Techsandbox’s “makerspace” where entrepreneurs can work on prototypes and hardware. Estimated launch time for the Hopkinton Techubator program is  January 2016.