Friday, November 30, 1984

San Diego County Library

Millions bear the burdens of illiteracy:
Non-readers face a harsh sentence in America today
Evening Tribune: November 27, 1984 by Scott LaFee
read complete article @ NewsBank

TWENTY-SIX million Americans -- a number equal to the combined populations of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- could not read this sentence.

The same number -- one of every five American adults -- cannot write a check or read the label on a soup can. And each year, the number grows as nearly a million students drop out of high school.

In San Diego County, the figures don't read any better. As many as 400,000 residents may be reading below the fifth-grade level or may be unable to read and write well enough to function smoothly in society.

The statistics of illiteracy and its costs to the nation are staggering. Experts estimate illiteracy drains the economy of $6 billion a year in unemployment and welfare benefits, and of $237 billion a year in unrealized earnings.

Officials at Project Sure, a consortium of 27 adult-literacy projects throughout California, call the people "functional illiterates."

Functional illiteracy is not a total inability to read or write. The United States boasts an official literacy rate of 99 percent, but millions of Americans are still functionally illiterate.

Functional illiteracy must be judged in a social context. A lettuce farmer in the Imperial Valley, for instance, may be able to read a bill of sale but not a newspaper.

. . . Continued
Removing the stigma and reaching the illiterate is the goal of national organizations like Laubach Literacy Action and Literacy Volunteers of America, and local programs like the Tri-City Literacy Coalition which serves Vista, Oceanside and Carlsbad.

. . . Continued
According to Project Sure statistics, one-third of the county's 96,500 welfare recipients are high school dropouts. Nine percent have less than a ninth-grade education.

Twenty percent of the 1,800 people a day who apply for driver's licenses in the county must retake the written test, primarily due to reading problems. One-third of the 14,500 participants in the Area Agency on Aging nutritional program for senior citizens may be functionally illiterate.

Few dispute that illiteracy has an adverse, if indirect and hard-to-measure, effect on crime, lifestyles and governmental costs.

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