Poverty is a root cause of low literacy, and low literacy is related to negative outcomes including increased education costs, higher crime rates, poorer overall health and a higher rate of dependence on publicly subsidized programs. 

1,700,000  Texas

children under the age of 18
live in


38%   of Houston children 5

years old and younger
live in poverty.a

74%   of children in Greater

are considered "economically


1 in 4 Houston adults live in


43% of adults with the lowest

level of literacy live in poverty,

to only 4% of those with the highest

literacy skill levels.c

70% of inmates in American

cannot read above a 4th grade



Education is central for an individual to earn a living wage, for families to break the cycle of poverty, and for a city to have a strong workforce and vibrant economy.

50%  of students who begin

community college
do not remain to


3,500,000  Texas

adults were eligible for adult education

programs in 2013.
Federal funds served

91,906 students, or 2.6% of that need.3


$70,000,000  was spent in 2013 on developmental math,

reading, and writing courses
by Houston's colleges and universities.f


Of the 75 most populous cities in the United States, Houston was recently ranked 56th, with number 75 being the least literate.4

1 in 4  Houston adults have not

earned a high school diploma,
GED or



75% of future high-growth, high-

demand jobs in the Houston/Gulf Coast

will require the minimum of an

associate's degree.h

Texas ranks 50th among states in percentage of adult population with a high school education. 26,000 to 42,000 Texas adults were on waiting lists for Adult Basic Education in 2012.5


It is clear that when children enter kindergarten possessing requisite socio-emotional and cognitive skills, including pre-literacy skills, they are more likely to be successful in their academic career. Having a strong early childhood system from birth through pre-kindergarten when a child’s brain is developing most rapidly is paramount to ensuring every child is school-ready and is positioned for success.

Research shows that for every $1 invested in early childhood education and
pre-kindergarten programs,
the return on investment is $7.i


60%  of Houston area children

enter kindergarten
each year lacking

requisite reading skills.l

The state of Texas only requires 24 hours of training and a high school diploma for licensed childcare workers.k


The pre-kindergarten system in Texas only meets 2 out of 10
quality standards, ranking 28th nationally
in pre-kindergarten funding levels.j


In 2007, 21% of poor children ages three to six, nationally, were able to recognize all

26 letters of the alphabet,

compared with 35% living above the poverty level.
For the same year, 46% of poor

children were able to write their name, compared with 64% of their more affluent peers.6


Third grade is a critical milestone in a child’s education, during which they are expected to transition from learning how to read to reading to learn.  Research indicates that reading below expected third grade levels is highly correlated to future academic challenges, as well as dropout, incarceration and poverty rates.

Hispanic and African-American third graders in the greater Houston area were
2 times more likely
to perform unsatisfactorily on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) reading assessment in 2013.o


Children who do not read on level by the end of Grade 3 have only a

1 in 8 chance

of ever catching up and are 4 times more likely to drop out of school.n

Among poor students who were proficient readers in the third grade,11% nationally fail to finish high school.7


1 in 4 third graders in the greater Houston area scored unsatisfactorily on

the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness reading assessment in 2013.m

Home Learning Environments

A high-quality home learning environment is paramount for developing strong emergent literacy skills among young children and fostering a love of reading.

Economically disadvantaged children hear 30,000,000 fewer words by age 3 than their more affluent peers. This is known as the "30 million word gap." p


Having books in the home results in children reading more often and for longer lengths of time.8

Children and teenagers who read for pleasure on a daily or weekly basis score better on reading and writing tests than infrequent or non-readers.9


90%  of kids ages 6 to 17 say they are more likely to finish a book they have

picked out themselves.
In addition, having books in the home is a more significant factor

than family income in determining whether a child will be a frequent reader.q


1 book is available for every 300 children in low-income areas as compared

to an average of 12 books in the homes of their more affluent peers.r

Chronic Absenteeism

Attending school on a regular basis is critical for children to meet academic standards and stay on track for graduation. Research is evident that student attendance is related to academic performance, especially for economically disadvantaged children and English Language Learners.  Reducing chronic absenteeism is a key strategy for improving literacy rates and success of children.

Of the over 25,000 HISD students who took 2015 STAAR English exams, students who missed fewer than 18 days of school

were twice as likely to pass than chronically absent students.s


9.3% or over 20,000 Houston

Independent School District children are

chronically absent during any given year.

86% of these students hailed from low-

income families. 98% of chronically absent

pre-kindergarten children are

economically disadvantaged.t

Students who attended grades 3 to 8 regularly scored up to 20% higher on the Texas STAAR Reading test than their chronically absent peers.u


All students, regardless of race or ethnicity, are proven to
achieve at higher levels

when they attend school regularly.v


A global crisis exists with far too many people living a life with low literacy skills. It is a problem that must be systemically addressed and become a higher priority to ensure social and economic prosperity for all.

  Worldwide, there are over

750,000,000 people
aged 15 years and older who

cannot read or write

a simple sentence. Two-thirds of them are female.10

As of January 2014,76%  of American adults ages 18 and up read at least one book in the past year.11

Women  are more likely

than men to have read a book in the

previous 12 months,
and those with

higher levels of income and education

are more likely to have done so as well.

In addition, blacks are more likely to

have read a book than Hispanics.12

References: a-r: Baker, et al. (2013). Houston's Literacy Crisis: A Blueprint for Community Action; s-v: Finck, Julie. (2015). When Students Miss School: The High Cost to Houston. The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation; 1. Children's Defense Fund-Texas. (2015). New Census Data Show Texas Leaving More Children in Poverty Than Any Other State, Except California2. Feibel, Carrie. (2012). Census: One Quarter of Houstonians Now Live in Poverty, 38 Percent Are Children. (2012). Houston Public Media, September 20, 2012; 3. Houston Center for Literacy. (2014). "Adult Education in Transition: Ideas and Opportunities from Texas Communities," September 2014; 4. Houston Center for Literacy. "Why We Exist."5. Houston Center for Literacy. "Adult Education in Texas."6. Child Trends-Data Bank. (2016). "Early School Readiness: Differences by Poverty Status."7. Grade Level Reading. (2016). Study Links 3rd Grade Reading, Poverty and High School Graduation: 3rd Grade Reading Success Matters.8-9. CLIF: Children's Literacy Foundation. (2016). Research.10. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2016). Literacy Data Release 2016.11-12.  Zickuhr, Kathryn and Lee, Rainie. (2014). Pew Research Center. A Snapshot of Reading in America in 2013.