Philip Pirello's parents raised him to be cautious with money, and that lesson has stuck. "I think a lot of people get into stocks, and they play around and don't know what they're doing, and they lose it," said Pirello, a 60-year-old salesman for Materials Handling Enterprises, a warehousing supply company. "My father did not do that. It wasn't that he didn't trust people. He just wanted control over his own money."
During a 27-year career in sales, Pirello has saved, invested modestly in stocks, funded his 401(k) with the maximum contribution each month, and put three children through college. He did it by adhering to a philosophy of individual control over spending and saving.
Still, Pirello paused and thought when asked whether ideas to improve Americans' financial security are most likely to come from the public or the private sector. Working on commission, Pirello has felt downturns in the past. His earnings dropped by half during an economic slump a few years ago. Drawing on his experience in business, Pirello said that government must play a larger role in securing people's financial futures. "The private sector will probably help them, but businesses look to cut. [The] bottom line is important for businesses," he said. "People are the bottom line for government, though."
Pirello is a lifelong resident of Erie, Pa., where both of his parents also grew up. The city has changed in many ways since his folks were municipal employees, but perhaps the biggest economic change that Pirello has noticed is the new culture of financial risk taking. Today's young adults, he says, have been raised to believe in easy mortgages and surefire stocks. "Nowadays, the kids are around more of that," Pirello said. "It's on TV, it's in the paper. They're told, 'Invest.' We were told, 'Save.' "
This article appears in the April 25, 2009, edition of National Journal Magazine.