International Literacy Day – September 8

International Literacy Day

Students at Literacy Outreach and 30 million other Americans struggle daily with the painstaking task of deciphering simple, yet distressingly important, messages.  With your help, we can teach local adults to read product and employee manuals, pill bottles, warning labels, job applications, ballots, school reports and their own children’s notes. 

Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member.  Low literacy’s effects cost the U.S. $225 billion or more each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.

Since 1967 UNESCO andInternational Literacy Day focus attention on the need to promote worldwide literacy.  UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, estimates that nearly 800 million people—one-fifth of the world’s adult population—do not know how to read or write; women make up two-thirds of this number. 

Globally, literacy rates are on the rise: they are up 2.3 percent in the past 10 years and 10.6 percent in the past 20 years. While women still lag behind—representing 64 percent of all low-literate adults—they have made significant gains over time. Since 1985, the female adult literacy rate has risen 15 percent, which is about double the growth of the male literacy rate.  The region of South and West Asia is home to more than one-half of the global low-literate population (51.8 percent), while sub-Saharan Africa represents 21.4 percent.  Literacy Outreach currently has multiple students from Africa learning to read, write and speak English.

Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.  Kofi Annan

More than 30 million adults in the U.S.—14 percent of the country’s adult population—cannot read and write above a fifth grade level.  When compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. ranked 10th in literacy, behind Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, Switzerland, Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Tonga, and Bosnia Herzegovina.

There is a correlation between a low literacy rate and a low paycheck. Just 35 percent of individuals with below basic skills are employed full time, while 64 percent in the proficient category have full-time jobs.  The salaries of adults with below-basic literacy skills are, on average, $28,000 less than salaries of adults with proficient skills.  Nearly two-thirds of the projected new jobs will most likely be filled by workers with some post-secondary education. 

Single mothers who lack a high school degree are much more likely to be on welfare than women who have a high school degree.  Women with low literacy are twice as likely as men to be in the lowest earnings category of $300 a week or less.

Minimum wage workers increased wages by 18 to 25 percent within 18 months of exiting an adult education program.  Fifty percent of the chronically unemployed are not functionally literate. 

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