As I mentioned in my previous post on literacy, being illiterate doesn’t just mean leaving a paperback out of your beach bag. The cycle of illiteracy affects society as a whole as it impacts employment rates and incarceration levels. On a personal level, adults who are functionally illiterate cannot read maps, complete a job application, fill out an insurance form, or understand the directions on their medication.
Research into literacy shows that it is never too early to start breaking this cycle. From the day they are born (and even a little before then) babies benefit from being read to. Not only do they exhibit better language skills as they get older (unsurprisingly), children who are read to as babies have higher math scores as well.
Books for Babies is a national literacy program that is working to make books available to all families. Parents of newborns are given a kit that contains tips for reading to babies, literacy information, a board book, and a library card.
Having just discovered this program myself, I’ll be looking into it and reporting back with my findings. In the meantime, feel free to do some digging on your own and see what early literacy programs your community has. Your local library is a great place to start. If they don’t have any programs currently, you can start one! The Books for Babies website linked to above is a great place to look for advice on getting started.
14% of the American population is illiterate.
You can help change that.
Not everyone likes to read. I get that, even if it makes my soul shudder in horror. But there is a lot more to reading that curling up with a great novel and a cup of hot chocolate (my favorite way to spend a winter evening).
Poor adult literacy is a huge setback in life. It greatly lowers career opportunities, and often creates a cycle within a family. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, children of illiterate parents are 72% more likely to be illiterate themselves. Children who struggle to read in first grade often decide they dislike reading. By fourth grade, a child’s reading level is a strong indicator of how literate they will be as adults. Giving children access to age appropriate books at a young age is vital in the battle against illiteracy.
70% of welfare recipients have low literacy levels. Low education is very closely linked with lower earnings, but it isn’t just family incomes suffering. The National Council for Adult Learning estimates that the U.S. loses $225 billion a year due to low productivity in the workforce, crime, and unemployment linked with low literacy.
Even more money, $232 billion, is spent on health care that could be avoided with higher literacy levels. Almost half of American adults have trouble understanding health care information and instructions. This means that they have difficulty making decisions that will get them the health care they need without incurring extra costs.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 75% of state prison inmates do not have a high school diploma or are illiterate. Inmates that receive an education while incarcerated are 43% less likely to return to prison.
I am just beginning to explore this issue, but as you can see, low literacy levels have a much deeper impact that simply missing out on the newest bestseller. As funding for literacy programs dries up, the problem continues to grow.
I’ll be doing more research to see what I can do to help. If you’d also like to pitch in, make sure you subscribe to my new posts to see how you can get involved.