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Lower literacy levels and the impact on the economy

By HILARY LANE

Educational levels in Herkimer and Oneida Counties are lower than the averages in New York State and the country and research shows that literacy rates have a direct correlation with the state of the economy.

"For people who are illiterate, they are unemployed and on the streets and many people on the streets end up in the public system," said Peggy O'Shea, President and CEO of The Community Foundation. "There are dollars attached to that, that cost the community."

The Mohawk Valley has one of the lowest rates of people with bachelor's degrees or higher levels of education in the state.

"We have employers who can't find employees with skills that they can employ. Therefore they have to look elsewhere, or in other cases, the employers have to go elsewhere where there is an educated workforce," said O'Shea.

It is a vicious cycle. The higher the poverty rate, the less access to educational programs, which leads to a larger number of unemployed people.

The same is true if you reverse the equation - the less access to good, solid education, the harder it is to find a job, and then the poverty rate increases.

O'Shea points to the issue of children not being prepared for kindergarten, because of lack of Pre-K programs, as a factor also contributing to high illiteracy rates.

"They are the children who we see in the third grade test scores as failing or coming behind the other students," said Shea. "They are the students who are in the 6th grade or struggling and by 8th or 9th grade, they are dropping out. So kindergarten may seem like an innocent year, but it's not."

O'Shea said that the first step to combating the illiteracy problem is to make sure all children have access to books. She will be working with the Literary Coalition to help make sure that happens.

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