Illiteracy and Poverty in America: Defining the Future of our Students

In America, it doesn’t matter what socioeconomic standing you were born into, we believe everyone deserves an equal chance at an equally fulfilling life. In the land of opportunity, a general sense of optimism for our futures sets us apart from other countries. A 2009 Pew Poll found even after the beginning of the Great Recession, Americans remained optimistic that they would still get ahead.[i]

That being said, the numbers speak a different truth. However optimistic we are about opportunity in America, the U.S. ranks 27th out of 31 developed countries when measuring equal opportunities.[ii] Research shows American students start falling behind other developed nations by kindergarten.[iii]

A study by Center on Children & Families at Brookings found the chance of being successful, in this study defined as reaching the middle class, is very much influenced by race and gender, but even more so by the earnings of the subject’s parents.[iv] The following graph shows a student’s preparedness for each phase of life based on whether they were born to parents in the bottom fifth of family income or the top fifth.

Note only 48 percent of children born to the bottom fifth are ready for school, compared to 78 percent in the top fifth. As these students move through the different phases of their life and into adulthood, 75 percent of those born in the top fifth will hit middle class status, compared to only 40% of those born into the bottom fifth.[v]

As this report points out, even in an unabashedly meritocratic country, “success begets later success.”[vi] Early intervention is key to a student’s future success, financially, academically, socially, and emotionally. This is true for all countries, and the ones that are succeeding know it.
[ii], page 2

[iv] Ibid, page 6
[v] Ibid, page 6
[vi] Ibid, page 8

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