Literacy Impact: Community & Economic Opportunity
Childhood Literacy Impacts
A mother’s education level has more impact on a child’s current and future academic success and opportunities, even more than the neighborhood or family. The Foundation for Child Development has done research that shows as a mother’s education level goes down, children’s enrollment in prekindergarten (preK) also goes down. Even worse, children’s reading and math fluency went down as mothers’ education levels decreased. The income of parents further affects childhood literacy. Low-income communities only have 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. This fact is even more impactful when we consider that introducing a child to books and reading at home before entering school is one of the biggest influencers on children’s academic success and opportunities. As a result, 3 out of every 4 children in the Charleston Metro are not ready for kindergarten because they lack the vocabulary needed.
Young Adult Literacy Impacts
When parents have less than a high school education, they are more likely to live at or below the poverty line. Living in poverty has a huge impact on the lives of young people. Kids and young adults living in poverty are more likely to be absent from school. Also, young adults (ages 16-25) whose families live in poverty are 7 times more likely to drop out of high school than their middle class counterparts.
Regardless of income, 1 out of every 5 young adults in the Charleston metro is not graduating high school within five years. Students are not dropping out due to laziness or a lack of value for education in the family. Students are pushed out of school when they are kicked out for already low attendance and bad behavior. This is unfortunate considering research shows that low-income learners and students of color are punished more frequently and more harshly in schools for the same infractions as their White and middle class counterparts.
Then, learners are pulled out of school when they need to help support their families, someone gets sick, or teens get pregnant. As Denmark, SC’s teen pregnancy prevention program has shown, teen pregnancy has a tendency to increase when schools and communities promote abstinence-only education, failing to educate the community’s youth in reproductive health. Finally, students fall out of high school when they lose motivation to fight against an educational system they no longer believe is working for or with them. The high school dropout rates are complex issues that have serious impacts in our community.
Adult Literacy Impacts
There are over 86,000 adults (that’s at least 1 in 8) age 25 or older in the Charleston metro area who do not have a high school diploma or a GED, and about 60,000 people (that’s at least 1 in 7 people) who do not have even BASIC literacy skills (literacy level 1). Unfortunately, low-literacy adults with basic literacy skills are usually only able to get minimum wage jobs.
As a result, there are over 115 thousand people in our tri-county area who are living in poverty. That is a staggering 1 in 6 people who don’t have the resources needed to get by every day.
Literacy Matters for the Whole Community and Local Economy
Low-literacy is a multifaceted social equity and justice problem that results in less job opportunities and low income, often poverty. Adult working low-skill, minimum wage jobs are often not allowed to work more than 30 hours because businesses want to avoid providing worker benefits and paid time off. When this happens, poverty results, leaving the community to help those working adults try to make ends meet. As the Post & Courier recently stated, rent in the Charleston metro is high. Housing assistance is usually needed for people with low-literacy and working minimum wage jobs. Also, medical and food assistance are often necessary when you live below the poverty line, especially if you have children. Letting our people live in poverty can cost the Charleston community over $15, 000 for ONE adult for only ONE year. This does not count the cost of any children each adult may have. When over 86,000 adults in the tri-county area don’t have a high school diploma or a GED, the community could incur costs of up to $1.3 BILLION in public assistance to help those people survive.
Literacy is not a “them” issue. When 1 in 8 people in our tri-county area don’t have a GED, literacy is an US issue. By empowering low-income, low-literacy adults to earn their GED and WorkKeys certificate, the community can combat societal inequity, improve the lives of the adults, increase the readiness of their children for school, help prevent their children from dropping out, have a more educated workforce, improve the local economy, and break the cycle of poverty in our community. Literacy matters to Charleston.