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Reading is the one way out of lifelong poverty

Clay County is one of the most beautiful parts of West Virginia, especially during the fall foliage season. Clay also is one of the poorest places in the nation.

Clay County's per capita income is $12,021 a year — only $17 higher than McDowell County, whose poverty is the subject of numerous documentaries and dissertations.

Poverty hits the children of Clay hard.

From West Virginia Kids Count, the facts:

n Clay is No. 2 (after McDowell) in percent of schoolchildren receiving free or reduced lunches at 69.5 percent.

n The state average is 52.8 percent.

n Clay is No. 5 in percentage of births to unmarried teen moms at 13.3 percent.

n Clay is No. 3 in child poverty with 37.6 percent of children living in poverty.

n Clay has the third-lowest percent of parents who are in the work force with only 28.4 percent of parents holding or looking for a job.

n The state average is 54 percent.

n Clay is No. 1 in the percentage of fourth graders who are proficient in reading, at 63 percent.

That is correct. Despite its widespread poverty, Clay seems to be able to get its children to read. This may be a statistical anomaly, but this appears to be the sort of good news West Virginia needs.

Getting children to read is important because West Virginia needs an educated work force available to help attract the jobs and the opportunities that are necessary to help the people climb out of poverty, and to make the state prosperous again.

Clay may be No. 54 out of 55 counties in income but reading can make it No. 1 in hope.

The focus of this year's education reform was reading proficiency by fourth grade. Clay shows that's possible among the poorest of the poor.


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