Income Needs of Functionally Illiterate Women

In the labour force, there are 509,995 women with less than grade nine educations. These women comprise 26.9 percent of the female adult population with less than grade nine; and 10.4 percent of the total female labour force (Statistics Canada 1981). In comparison, 62.3 percent of the male adult functionally illiterate populations are in the labour force; and constitute 15.2 percent of the total male labour force. 2

Under-educated women who want to work and many of whom must work in order to support themselves are faced with a labour market situation in which the jobs that require low levels of educational attainment on the part of workers, pay very low wages. The average employment income of women with less than grade nine, who worked in 1980, was $7,022. This is only 49.5 percent of the average employment income of males in 1980 with the same level of education ($14,179) (Statistics Canada 1981) the average employment income of all the women who worked in 1980 was $8,863 compared to $16,988 for males. 3

The fact that only 2.3 percent of women with less than grade nine attend educational programs to upgrade their low level of education, is an indicator of the very likely probability that poverty within this group will continue.

People in a culture of poverty produce little wealth and receive little in return. Chronic unemployment and under-employment, low wages, lack of property, lack of savings, absence of food reserves in the home, and chronic shortage of cash, imprison the family and the individual in a vicious circle. 4

It is important to note that this author does not hold the view that illiteracy is the cause of poverty. Rather, poverty - a product of our economic system and its ideological underpinnings - is the cause of illiteracy. Illiteracy merely maintains one's economic poverty. Consequently, while it is necessary to eradicate illiteracy and under-education, it is not sufficient for halting the cycle of economic poverty.

Skills Training Needs of Functionally Illiterate Women

Functionally illiterate women in the labour force are experiencing more than low wages. Like the majority of women in the labour force they are faced with a situation in the labour market where the demand for the kind of work traditionally done by women.- clerical, sales and service-oriented work - is declining. Moreover the employment growth rate in the service sector (the main location of the majority of the female labour force) is expected to decline in the late 80's and through the 90's.

The message that is being repeated over and over again by those who have studied the labour market situation of women is that women must move away from traditional female occupations and into non-traditional (male) occupations. To make this shift women must be re-trained for entry into these occupations. As Heather Henderson has shown (1984) the majority of the occupations for which there is growing demand are technical and traditionally male occupations. Performance in these occupations requires, at the very least some basic knowledge of mathematics and physics. Attainment of this knowledge is dependent upon the prior attainment of at least functional literacy skills. It is an understatement that women with less than grade nine will have great difficulty with respect to entry into non-traditional occupations.

In her examination of the impact of the National Training Program on women Henderson (1984) found that:
although women generally do not enter the National Training Program with less education than men they generally tend to lack in those areas of expertise most needed to get a non-traditional job e.g. maths and science credits for computer technology or practical experience with simple mechanics, tools, etc. 5

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