This was the question to an answer on Jeopardy last night. (And no…I didn’t just mix my words up…if you are familiar with Jeopardy you are familiar with their answer/question format.) It really got me thinking about something that I take so much for granted-my ability to read. I’m not ignorant to the fact that too many Americans are illiterate…in fact I was an Adult Literacy Volunteer myself many eons ago. I am however woefully ignorant of the facts…and decided that it was time to educate myself. I am usually not one to put too much stock in statistics…but sometimes when one is searching for some quick and easy to digest info, they come in handy.
Based upon the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) assessment of English literacy among American adults age 16 and older:
- 14% of the US population has “below basic” literacy skills…at least 11 million of which are completely illiterate (4 million due to a language barrier).
- 29% have “basic” skills
- 44% have “intermediate” skills
- 13% lay claim to “proficient” skills
A survey by the Jenkins Group provides a few other interesting and quite frankly disturbing statistics:
- 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
- 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
- 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
- 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
According to the 2005 literacy report released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) which I believe was based upon the 2003 NAAL:
- 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
- More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
And finally some info from the Begin to Read website:
- Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.
- One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.
- 43% of adults at Level 1 literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at Level 5
- 3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform in the lowest 2 literacy levels
- 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts
- 16 to 19 year old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their reading counterparts.
- Low literacy costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. A recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher.
I’m almost speechless just reading those stats. They certainly were not as “easy digestible” as I’d anticipated.
So what does this say about our education system and the direction in which this country is headed? What are the economic and health ramifications for us as a society?? And what if anything can we as individuals do about it???I for one know that I’m planning to curl up tonight with a good book and to be especially thankful to be able to do so. I’ll also be planning to try to spend more quality time with books and less with my television in the upcoming year–blog post to follow in the next few days with my reading goals and some challenges I’ll be taking on for 2011.