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  • Susan Stoderl

Illiteracy, Crime, Welfare, and Poverty Go Hand in Hand


Literacy prevents crime, welfare, and poverty.

Fourth grade is the turning point for achieving literacy in a child’s life. If a child is not reading at a fourth-grade level while in fourth grade, they have a seventy-eight percent chance of never catching up. In the United States, the lowest percentage of fourth graders who could not read at fourth-grade level was fifty-three percent in Massachusetts. The percentages are surprisingly bad for a wealthy nation. However, fifty-three percent looks pretty good compared to the seventy-nine percent of fourth graders who could not read at a fourth-grade level in New Mexico.


In 2018, fifty-four percent of all three-and four-year-old children attended pre-primary programs. If one parent has a bachelor’s degree, about sixty percent of their children attend preschool, whereas only thirty-five percent of children whose parents did not graduate from high school attend a pre-k program. If a person has no high school diploma, they are likely to live in poverty. Not having their kids in preschool almost ensures that they will not pass the fourth-grade hurdle.


Eighty-five percent of all juveniles in the juvenile court system and over sixty percent of all prison inmates are illiterate. Over seventy percent can only read at a fourth-grade level. If inmates receive literacy help while in prison, there is only a sixteen percent chance of returning to prison. However, if they don’t, the recidivism rate is seventy percent. Forty-three percent of adults who have low literacy skills live in poverty. Only four percent with high literacy skills live in poverty. Three out of four food stamp recipients are in the lowest two literacy levels. Ninety percent of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.


America spends $2.2 trillion on prisons and welfare. What if we spent a fraction of that amount on universal pre-k education and tutoring? It would significantly reduce prison and welfare costs, as well as improve the well-being of all those involved.


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