Reading is Fundamental

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.


About Melissa's Meanderings

Interests: Green Living, The Environment, Animal Rights, Reading, Gardening, Home Improvement, Pets, Vegetarianism, Photography.
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11 Responses to Reading is Fundamental

  1. Andrea says:

    It is sad that the society at large finds reading to be so unappealing. I wonder why illiteracy is passed down in families; don’t these children go to school? The only way to combat illiteracy in my own life is to pass down my love of reading to my children. These statistics are downright scary, Melissa! Maybe more people could get involved in starting book groups/clubs for children? I hope that in time we can change some of these numbers for the better.

    • School and teachers can’t support a child the way parents and community are meant to. Parents ultimately have the greatest influence on their children and it’s evidenced in the cycles of illiteracy and poverty that follow generations. I think that you are right that we definitely need to find a way to encourage a love of reading in all children…our own..our family and our communities.

  2. tknologlvr says:

    Me, too! So thankful for teachers instilling in me the love of reading. The stats are both eye-opening and depressing.

    • Ditto that…teachers play such an important role…especially now as so many parents sadly absent themselves from any actual parenting…instead placing the weight and responsibility on others.

  3. N B says:

    “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.”
    points up Of course they aren’t getting pregnant, they are too busy reading their books! I was.

    It is unfortunate that the showcase “Smart people” are fewer than we would imagine. Some people never look at a book! Meep!! I, for one, am glad to read and re-read many books. And share them.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you for posting this! I had lunch with a coworker today who seemed to be bragging that she has never read a book in her entire life. I couldn’t believe it! I can not imagine my life without books.
    One of my fondest childhood memories is when we lived around the corner from a small branch of the library. My brother and I would walk over nearly everyday in the summer time, and pick out new books to read. We absorbed as much as we could!
    I am so thankful to my teachers and parents who encouraged my reading from a very young age.

    • I find it amazing that people can brag that they don’t read…and to never have read a book in her entire life?!! One wonders if she was truly proud of the fact in some odd way or simply masking embarrassment. I lived at the library when I was young as well…and think that all children can benefit greatly from frequent visits to browse and let them find their own reading “niche” and summer reading lists!

  5. dancingbeastie says:

    Hi Melissa,
    I’m always wary of statistics as they can be so easily manipulated; but there’s no doubt that these figures are, to use a fine English expression, ‘gob-smacking’. Especially the unexpected one about 42% of college leavers who never pick up another book. What did they go to college for?!
    Well, I have no easy answers, but I do share your determination to read more books this year. TV doesn’t figure large in our household, but I seem to spend too much time with ephemera (newspapers, catalogues, emails etc.) to sit down in the evening and just enjoy getting stuck into a good book. I have re-joined a wonderful book society and have a pile of tempting hardbacks awaiting my attention – everything from medieval architecture to Scottish fairy tales to particle physics. There is a world to be found in books – how lucky we are to be able to enter it.

    • Statistics definitely can be manipulated…but even if these are accurate =/-10%, they are still so disturbing. There are no easy answers but the first step is always acknowledging the problem.
      What a wide range of interests you have!!

  6. having spent a great deal of time working with the population you’ve highlighted, i can say i’m not at all surprised by those statistics. what did surprise me is “80% of US families did not buy or read a book at all last year.” i guess i can say it angered me more than it did surprise me, more so the second half than the first and especially since those statistics include families with small children. i could not imagine living in a world where i didn’t read to my 4 year old daughter every single day. when i see her love of books, it makes me smile. it also makes me sad for the kids who will grow up without that same appreciation.

    • I agree…and that is the crux of the problem…love of self improvement…education…reading must start at the youngest age. They need to grow up knowing how much fun it can be and too many are missing out…and later ending up a grim statistic.

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