Illiteracy & Its Social & Economic Impact on the United States

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Illiteracy is a very common problem in the U.S., more common than some people might think. As many as 23% of the adult American population (40-44 million) is functionally illiterate (Level 1 according to the National Adult Literacy Survey), lacking basic skills beyond a fourth-grade level. Illiteracy is widespread, a problem in every community, not limited to any race, region or socioeconomic class.

Illiteracy also has a rather large impact on the economy. Adult illiteracy costs society an estimated $240 billion each year in lost industrial productivity, unrealized tax revenues, welfare, crime, poverty, and related social ills.

Illiteracy also affects the overall health of the country. Adults with low-level reading skills frequently suffer from health problems because the lack the ability to read medical directions, health-related literature or prescription labels. Chronic health conditions may go improperly monitored by patients who are functionally illiterate and the overall well-being of these individuals may worsen overtime causing frequent doctor or emergency room visits, hospitalization, or even death. Let’s also not forget that illiteracy prevents people from entering the medical field in the first place.

According to the NALS, 40% of the labor force in the United States has limited skills and American businesses lose more than $60 billion in productivity each year to employee’s lack of basic skills.

According to the National Institute of Health, the rate of illiteracy in America’s correctional systems is over 60%.

Of course, the most unfortunate (and preventable) casualties of the illiteracy rate in America are the children who are affected by intergenerational illiteracy. Children of disadvantaged parents begin their school life behind their peers. Parents with minimal or no reading skills often cannot provide the kind of support their children need to do well in school. Analysis has shown a direct correlation between young people’s test scores and the grade level attained by their parents.

It’s with these thoughts in mind, that I’ve decided to do what I can as an author to promote literacy and the value of reading the right books at an early age. Children’s books with a theme surrounding science, art, and astronomy have been known to open a child’s curiosity and promote a future-friendly level of thinking. This can lead the child down the path to having a more open mind, a broader range of thought, and a better and brighter future. By working together down this better path, there is nothing the human race cannot accomplish.

Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy
National Institute for Literacy