Fire Up!

News of the Western forest fires has been frightening yet thought-provoking.

July 9, 2012

News of the Western forest fires has been frightening yet thought-provoking.

Wildfires, says Wikipedia, are different from other fires because of their large size, incredible speed, “potential to change direction unexpectedly,” and their propensity to jump roads and rivers.

Wildfire devastation and unpredictability is terrifying but necessary for healthy ecosystems. Fire cycles nutrients back to the soil, regulates disease, eliminates dead wood—thus preventing greater devastation later in larger fires—and creates “a mosaic of different vegetative types,” per the U.S. Forest Service.

Does opportunity for a rejuvenating firestorm exist in the financial services industry? Will credit unions create a healthy ecosystem for consumers who may be stressed by excessive bank fees, impersonal service, and high interest rates?

Is there “dead wood” in our economic climate to provide fuel for the fire credit unions can ignite with proactive outreach and targeted financial services?

Be aware of your ecosystem. Let information be the spark to light a flame.

Lora Kloth is a research librarian at CUNA.
Lora Bray is research librarian at CUNA.

Note the smoldering embers this week in the employment forest: “U.S. Employer Businesses Show Declines in Establishments and Employees in 2010, Census Bureau Reports.” “In 2010, U.S. businesses with paid employees numbered 7.4 million, a decline of 36,800 establishments from 2009, marking the third consecutive year of decline.”

Meanwhile, job fires jump to the manufacturing sector in “Job Creation in the Manufacturing Revival” by the Congressional Research Service. Here you’ll discover bills promoting manufacturing as a source for employment of low-skilled workers may not produce the intended effect as “a steadily smaller proportion of manufacturing workers is involved in physical production processes, while larger shares are engaged in managerial and professional work.”

Such process changes suggest “promotion of manufacturing as a tool to stimulate local economies is likely to meet with limited success; even if newly established factories prosper, few are likely to require large amounts of labor.”

Low-skilled workers may be challenged to find work in this climate.

Executive pay

The blaze jumps again as we examine executive employment situations in “CEO Pay and the Market for CEOs” by The Federal Reserve. “The main finding of our study is that there is reliable evidence of pay for CEO credentials for newly-appointed CEOs….CEOs with better credentials earn significantly higher total compensation.”

The three credential measures the Fed considers in its study are “…industry reputation, labor market status, and educational pedigree.”

Employers well-compensate those who are well-prepared.

What is America’s economic and employment fire risk compared to other countries? See “Economic Survey of the United States 2012” by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“Although job creation has improved and the unemployment rate has come down from a high of 10.0% in October 2009, the effects of the recession on the labour market remain.” Importantly for Americans, “Income inequality and relative poverty are among the highest in the OECD.”

An unfortunate ramification is low social mobility. “High income inequality is attributable to a significant degree to the large dispersion of earned income, which should be addressed by reforming education so as to provide disadvantaged students with the skills needed to realise their full potential.”

Does your credit union create a spark in younger members by encouraging them to broaden their educational horizons? And do you fan the flames of success in your organization?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says natural fires create new vegetative patterns and enable “diversity of habitats.”

Consider diversity in your habitats with the following reports. Might regeneration and rejuvenation be a possible outcome in reaching these markets?

See “The 10 Largest Hispanic Origin Groups: Characteristics, Rankings, Top Counties” by Pew Research.

This interesting study examines experiences and realities of 50.7 million Hispanics in the U.S., which vary according to their place of origin.

Of note regarding previous discoveries this week, “Hispanics have made gains in terms of their educational attainment during the decade…Among all Hispanics, the share with a college degree increased from 10% in 2000 to 13% in 2010.”

However, “most Hispanic origin groups had lower median household incomes in 2010 than 2000…Overall, median household income among Hispanics fell from $43,100 in 2000 to $40,000 in 2010—a decrease of 7%.”

Meanwhile, “Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States,” says Pew Research in “The Rise of Asian Americans.” 

Is this demographic on fire? “Asian Americans are distinctive as a whole, especially when compared with all U.S. adults, whom they exceed not just in the share with a college degree (49% vs. 28%), but also in median annual household income ($66,000 versus $49,800) and median household wealth ($83,500 vs. $68,529.).”

In “The Other, Other Half: Changes in the Finances of the Least Wealthy 50 Percent, 2007-2009,” the Fed reminds us not everything is easily predictable. Like those fighting wildfires, we must seek the unexpected in environmental monitoring.

Here, some contrary data bears further exploration. “Human capital arguments might lead one to expect relatively great increases in wealth for highly educated households. The data do show that college-educated households tend to be wealthier and that members of that group that were already in about the upper 70 percent of the wealth distribution in 2007 tended to do relatively well, but the data also show that among the least wealthy it was less-educated households that were much more likely to rise to a higher wealth group.”


Strategies for prevention and suppression of wildfires have changed over the years. Advancing technologies and available research have contributed to changes.

Controlled burns are effective. They mitigate threats. They are the result of risk assessment and prediction of fire behavior.

What will fuel the flames at your credit union? Will the burn be controlled, or change direction unexpectedly? And, what will be the long-term impacts for the landscape?

Who will light the match?

It’s time to get fired up.


LORA BRAY is a research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.