Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow.

Teens call for more personal finance education to bridge economic opportunity gap in America

Students arriving at school
Hero Images | Getty Images

U.S. teenagers are very aware that they aren't being taught financial literacy in school – and they're asking questions.

Understanding how to navigate the U.S. financial system is important, and today's teenagers see an opportunity gap – 61% believe people are paid less based on race, ethnicity and gender, and 69% said people have a harder time getting financial support to start a business due to the same characteristics, according to the Junior Achievement Teens and Economic Opportunity Survey released Monday.

The survey was conducted by Engine Insights online between Nov. 17 and 22 and asked 1,004 teens ages 13 to 17 about diversity, equity and inclusion.

VIDEO1:1901:19
New study shows younger generations believe there is inequality in the job market

In addition, 45% of teenagers surveyed said that education was the top way to address economic opportunity, but many aren't getting solid information about personal finance at school.

"Why do students have to learn so many things in math that they can never apply to the real world? Instead, shouldn't we be learning more things that focus on financial literacy?" said Kallin Marquez, 13, an 8th grader at Diamond Canyon Middle School in Anthem, Arizona, during Tuesday's CNBC and Junior Achievement Virtual Summit for a more Equitable and Just Tomorrow.

Only six states in the country require high school students to take at least one semester-long personal finance class before graduation, according to Next Gen Personal Finance's 2019-2020 progress report, and 15 more have personal finance in another course. The remaining states – more than half of the U.S. -- don't require students to have any personal finance education before graduating.

"We need a national mandate around financial literacy in schools, there needs to be a basic level of learning these topics that kids get," said Sahil Bloom, vice president of Altamont Capital Partners, during the summit.

Why do students have to learn so many things in math that they can never apply to the real world? Instead, shouldn't we be learning more things that focus on financial literacy?
Kallin Marquez
8th grade student

Teens can learn about personal finance on their own

For now, many teens take personal finance education into their own hands. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help.

"Self-study is one of the best ways to learn anything," said Yanely Espinal, director of educational outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance. "If you can find time to shop online and talk to your friends on Instagram, you can find 15 minutes to study personal finance for yourself."

There are tons of free resources online, Espinal said, at sites such as Next Gen Personal Finance and Junior Achievement.

Teens can also ask the adults in their lives if they're part of a bank, and if so, what free materials may be available to educate young people, said Rianka Dorsainvil, a certified financial planner and the co-founder and co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners.

She also said teens should take it one education one step at a time. "Try not to become overwhelmed, because in personal finance there are so many subject areas to learn about," said Dorsainvil, who is also a member of CNBC's Advisor Council.

More from Invest in You:
For families of color, the pandemic brings an outsized financial hit
Covid financial stress hits Blacks, Hispanics more than Whites, analysis finds
This program is training girls to be leaders

The most important topics experts suggested? Learning about cash flow and making a budget, the importance of investing in the stock market and understanding compound interest.

They also encouraged teens to reach out to others, share what they learn and grow their social group.

"Your net worth is associated to your network," said Akbar Gbajabiamila, host of 'American Ninja Warrior', 'American Ninja Warrior Junior' and a member of CNBC's Financial Wellness Advisory Council. "Go beyond your bubble, put yourself out there and be resourceful," he said.

Bridging the gap

To be sure, the panel also addressed that financial knowledge and education itself isn't enough to even the playing field; it must be coupled with the ability and access to practice what one has learned. That's an issue in the U.S., especially for those from low-income or minority backgrounds.

"Young adults are aware of what's going on. We are not just there; we see what's happening and we want to change," said Emmalina Simonis, 17, a senior at JA Academy in Orlando, Florida.

VIDEO1:5601:56
Most teens say there's a lack of equal economic opportunity in the U.S.

Experts encouraged today's teens to continue to ask questions, fight to make things better and bring others along when they're successful.

"It is work and it is a fight but part of our responsibility in each generation is not only to make it better for me but better for the next generation," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Watch the full session below.

SIGN UP: Money 101 is an 8-week learning course to financial freedom, delivered weekly to your inbox.

CHECK OUT: Warren Buffett: Don't invest this way or you're 'certain' to get 'worse-than-average results' via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.