Education is the key to career success and economic self-sufficiency. Yet nearly one in eight persons (12.4%) over age 25 in Connecticut do not have a high school diploma. More than one-third of these persons (4.4% of the general population over 25) have less than a 9th grade education. About two-thirds (65.4%) of Connecticut persons over age 25 do not have a bachelor’s degree.
Among Connecticut’s 16 to 19 year-olds in 2003, 8% were dropouts; they were not enrolled in school and had not graduated from high school.
High school dropouts ages 16-19 in Connecticut are twice as likely to be African Americans (10.8%) than non-Hispanic whites (4.5%) (2000 Census); they are nearly five times more likely to be Latino (21.2%). African American teens ages 16-19 (12.6%) are three times more likely not to be in school or working than non-Hispanic white teens (4.1%); Latino teens (17.5%) are four times more likely.
Low Educational Achievement Leads to Low Earnings Growth
Higher education is one of the most effective ways that parents can raise their families’ incomes. Conversely, low education levels of parents increase the likelihood of low family income. The national poverty rate among families headed by a person with less than a high school education is 24%, for those with some college education it is 7% and for those with at least a bachelor’s degree it is 2%.
If parents have low education levels, full-time employment does not protect their families from poverty. Nationally, nearly three-quarters (73%) of children whose parents do not have a high school degree live in low-income families, compared with only 15% of children whose parents have at least some college education.
Children who drop out of school or complete school unable to read above elementary levels will encounter limited job choices as adults. Due to their low literacy skills, they may not be able to fill out a job application or find work that provides a decent wage.
Low Literacy Impedes Educational Advancement, Work Success
Illiteracy or low literacy is a passport to poverty. Today’s economy and society require literacy skills at Level 3 or higher, measured on a five-point scale. Approximately 300,000 greater Hartford adults, or roughly 41% of the adult population are functioning below Level 3. Below this level, people have difficulty filling out a job application or reading the newspaper, street signs, ATM screens, or the dosage on a medicine bottle. As a result, these adults do not have some of the most fundamental economic, social and personal abilities.
Nationally, 43% of people with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty, 17% receive food stamps, and 70% have no job or part-time job.
The personal impact of low literacy skills is seen at many levels. School children fall behind their classmates; youth drop out of school; adults lack the skills to succeed in today’s economy and are often unemployed or underemployed; parents cannot help their children develop pre-literacy skills, read them a story or help them with their homework. Illiteracy impacts every facet of a person’s life including the ability to read dosage or precautions on medicine bottles, vote properly, apply for jobs or just read a newspaper.
Functional illiteracy—the lack of basic skills such as reading, writing and computation—is a problem that affects the home and work life of families in Connecticut. Over 340,000 adults cannot read well enough to understand medicine labels, fill out a job application, or read to their children. Illiteracy is inter-generational. Children of functionally illiterate adults are twice as likely as their peers to become functionally illiterate as their peers of literate parents.
Businesses suffer productivity losses from employees’ lack of basic skills. Over $60 billion is lost in productivity each year by American businesses due to employee’s lack of basic skills.
By the time they begin formal schooling, children in low-income families already lag significantly behind their more affluent peers academically, socially and physically. If they do not make up this ground early in the school years, they will have a real challenge in obtaining a good job later in life.
The performance of Connecticut students on the Nation’s Report Card reveals this disturbing gap:
• At the fourth grade level, only 18% of low-income students met the proficiency standard, compared with 53% of children from high-income families. Only 12% of Connecticut’s low-income students met the math proficiency standard, compared with 54% of children from higher-income families.
• In eighth grade, only 15% of low-income students met the reading proficiency standard, compared with 45% of children from higher-income families. Only 12% of low-income students met the math proficiency standard, compared with 44% of children from higher-income families.
Many low-income families frequently move because they cannot afford to keep their home, they end up living in temporary doubled-up housing, or move from one homeless shelter to another. This disruption can affect student achievement because in general children who move and change schools have lower math and reading scores and are less likely to graduate from high school on time.
Schools with high proportions of low-income children are more likely to have inexperienced teachers, fewer computers, less Internet access, larger class sizes and unstable enrollment than schools with lower proportions of low-income children.68 Therefore, the children who have the greatest need for quality schools often do not have access to them.
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