Despite being the largest economy in the world, the U.S. continues to struggle with a staggering literacy problem where 21% of adults in the U.S. are either completely illiterate or functionally illiterate.
According to the Literacy Foundation, the U.S. is significantly behind many countries with smaller economies, including Japan, the UK, Canada, all of the Scandinavian countries, and South Korea.
Life for illiterate adults is not easy.
As the Literacy Center reports, low literacy individuals struggle to find employment; they settle for low-paying jobs; they fight to increase their earning power and to support their families. They under-utilize the healthcare system out of fear, or over-utilize it because they are unable to follow written instructions on prescriptions or discharge papers.
Low literacy negatively affects individuals in their daily lives and can jeopardize their future, Literacy Pittsburgh reports, leading to a reduced quality of life and less opportunity for advancement. Meanwhile, taxpayers are further burdened with additional costs due to increased unemployment compensation and welfare payments.
According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 70% of all incarcerated adults cannot read at a 4th grade level, “meaning they lack the reading skills to navigate many everyday tasks or hold down anything but lower (paying) jobs.”
Those without sufficient income earned by work are also the most prone to crime, Literacy Mid-South reports. Paul Romero, a correction official once noted, “With legal means of succeeding in society narrowed, illiteracy is heavily implicated in the crimes landing many behind bars in the first place.”
The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.”
Nationwide, “adult illiteracy has proved an intractable problem,” NPR reports, with today’s rate of illiteracy no better than it was 25 years ago.
The fact is, the seeds of illiteracy are planted at a young age. As , a mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income. Moreover, adults with low levels of education who have parents with low levels of education are 10 times more likely to have low skills than are those who have higher-educated parents.
Since the mid-1960s, the Federal Government has played a critical role in providing education services to adults with inadequate literacy skills. Unlike elementary and secondary education, where a mature State and local infrastructure existed before the Federal Government entered the field, public adult education is in many ways a Federal creation. Along with grant programs, the Adult Education Act (AEA) is the biggest federal driver of support for adult literacy and basic skills education.
Click below to demand an increase in federal support for critical programs that help adults overcome illiteracy!Whizzco