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Signs and symptoms of poverty and illiteracy

Updated November 21, 2016

While not every person in poverty is illiterate and not every illiterate person lives in poverty, in many cases, poverty and illiteracy go hand in hand. The signs and symptoms of poverty and illiteracy may be bold or subtle and are not always visible. Those who cannot read have difficulty finding work or locating the community resources in place to help them to read or emerge from poverty, so they may go uncounted and without the assistance they need.

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A person in poverty may appear in public in clothes that are worn, unclean or improperly sized and live in a home in disrepair. Impoverished persons may have poor general health and poor dental health due to a lack of resources necessary to pay for treatment, medicines or transportation to and from appointments.


Illiteracy may range from a complete inability to read to functional literacy. With marginal literacy, the person has some ability to read, but that ability is limited. In functional literacy, the sufferer manages to learn ways to get around in daily life without reading. Some people are literate in another language but are illiterate in English as a second language. Illiteracy may affect not only the ability to read, but to write.

An illiterate person may offer excuses for being unable to read or write, such as having forgotten her glasses, may attempt to cover her impediment by avoiding situations where she has to read or cope through tricks such as asking to take documents with her, rather than filling them out on-site.


Illiterate persons and those in poverty may lack education. Illiterate persons may drop out of school early and fail to get a diploma or GED because they cannot read the course material or take notes. Some illiterate people suffer from learning disorders such as dyslexia; a learning disorder may go undiagnosed during time spent in school, leaving the sufferer with the impression that he lacks the skill to learn.

Employment and Poverty

Persons living in poverty may have a drug problem or a criminal history that contributes to their inability to find or hold a job. Such people may find their employment opportunities limited to low-level, low-income jobs or part-time hours. Employers may be reluctant to hire people with such a background because they fear there will be negative repercussions in the workplace, as employees with criminal or drug use histories may have poor attendance, lack discipline on the job or pose a physical danger to others.

Employment and Illiteracy

Illiterate persons may find it difficult to hold a job because they lack basic, requisite skills and are unable to train for changes within their industry. They may miss work hours because they cannot read a posted schedule, may make mistakes on the job because they cannot refer to written guidelines or commit all of their duties to memory and they may pose a safety hazard in the workplace because they cannot read warning signs or instructions on equipment.

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