Literacy and Poverty Rates

November 7, 2007

Our friend Emily in Ecuador inquires ….
“How can it be true that Ecuador has a poverty rate of 65% and yet almost 93% of the population is literate?”

I also have these statistics:

Venezuela:
literacy rate of 93.4%
poverty rate about 43%
Both stats are from 2005

USA:
literacy rate about 49%
poverty rate about 12%
The strange thing is, that I could not get an exact number for literacy rates in the US. This wiki article gives a good background to why there is no exact number, and how the US kept changing the definition of literacy to reflect a good statistic.

This is a fascinating topic. I would like to explore it more. Any ideas, thoughts, or stats that you have found that could add to this? Please comment!

FK 09

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2 Responses to “Literacy and Poverty Rates”

  1. Wendell Says:

    As with the link between literacy and employment figures, the link between literacy and income is often exaggerated.

    What improves people’s income is a) fuller access to well-paid jobs, or b) fuller redistribution of society’s resources through taxation policies and charitable giving. In short, people’s income go up when they receive more money on a regular basis.

    As a literacy worker, I don’t employ people and I don’t redistribute resources. Literacy supports increase literacy, not material wealth.

    So, another interesting question is “Why?”. Why has the (sometimes) correlation between low literacy levels and low income been presented as causal relationship?

    Maybe because the literacy field oversells itself? Maybe because promising better employment numbers is the best way to get the attention of politicians or major funders? Maybe because it allows us to “blame the victims” (i.e., they’re poor because they lack skills) and hide many of the real mechanisms of income distribution (i.e., they’re poor because, not owning the land, they are forced to rent at inflated prices)?


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