Literacy and Poverty

Many important social issues are impacted by lower literacy rates – health, gender equality, food security and poverty. When an individual is able to read, write, do basic math and use a computer, they are better equipped with the tools to lift themselves out of poverty.

Over 40 per cent of adults with the lowest literacy levels live in poverty. There is a clear correlation between higher education and higher earnings.

Literacy levels in Canada

Family literacy is equally as important. Children of parents with low literacy skills have over 70 per cent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves, continuing the cycle. They are more likely to receive poor grades, display behavioral problems or even drop out of school altogether.

‘Secondary school completion is an important marker of long-term health and financial success and, once again, those who are marginalized will bear the brunt of these deficiencies, leading to increased illness and poverty.’  (National Post, January 6, 2021)

There is no question that literacy is essential in our world.

Literacy in Niagara

Literacy Niagara estimates that 1 in 5 Canadians cannot read or write well enough to function adequately. Lower literacy skills often contribute to individuals having low paying jobs and can contribute to being unemployable.

Quick Facts:

  • 48% of all Canadians fall into the lowest two reading levels (a majority are seniors, 65 and older).
  • Children of parents who have not graduated from high school are twice as likely to live in poverty.
  • People with literacy problems have only 2/3 of the income of other adults.
  • Literacy levels are lower in Niagara compared to the provincial average.
  • The unemployment rate for people at the lowest literacy level is 26% vs. 4% at highest literacy levels.

We know that investing in family literacy programs is worthwhile. “Early investment has a massive return, financially,” says Dr. Jean Clinton, a child psychiatrist and clinical professor. “People don’t always like to talk about finances but in fact every dollar, if you invest early, you get a massive return on investment – particularly from children who come from distressed backgrounds. Depending on the study, the return on your investment is as much as seven times.”

The long-term benefits of improved literacy for all our society’s members is invaluable.

Here is one family’s story.

William was one of eight children who grew up in a wonderful, supportive family; his father worked as a journalist and his mother stayed home, taking care of the large family. They lived on a large rural property in Niagara and grew much of their own fresh food.

When William was in the ninth grade, his father passed away suddenly, and he was forced to leave school to work in the construction industry to help support his mother and seven siblings. After nearly 40 years of working hard and supporting his large family and then himself, William suffered a devastating workplace injury and, at age 55, had to turn to Ontario Works for income.

William’s monthly income fell from a comfortable $3,500 to just $725. It was not enough to cover his rent and monthly bills, and he soon lost his home. William was forced to couch surf with family and friends. Since leaving school in grade nine, he was left without a high school diploma and thus finding new employment would prove impossible.

William made the decision to attain his G.E.D. so he would be able to find work in other industries. The problem was that his literacy level was well below what he would need to complete the work. He called 2-1-1 to ask about adult literacy training and was referred to a local program funded by United Way.

William worked with a tutor to increase his literacy level, confidence and love of learning.

Today, William is celebrating his first-year anniversary working for a local retailer. He was able to move back into his own apartment and is living independently again. He was even awarded employee of the month in September. William enjoys the social interaction of working and has made many new friends. His mental health is in a good place after years of feeling isolated and depressed about his life situation.

“I am very grateful programs like this exist in Niagara. I was in a really low place in my life, spiraling lower every day. My prospects were non-existent and I was really lost. After completing this program, I was so proud to be able to navigate online career listings and felt confident in applying for positions with my new resume. Thank you to all of you who make programs like this possible. It changed my life.”

William H