No one likes to acknowledge the illiterate elephant in the room, but the statistics are damning and frighting

Despite dreams of a progressive president and a new America, a nightmare continuously lurks within the shadows and will continue to go unacknowledged – American illiteracy. Reading is fundamental to the development of every individual; it’s apart of our daily lives from life until death, but America’s illiteracy statistics suggest that many of us go without it.

The difficulties of reading become visible in adulthood, but the problem can be traced back to elementary and secondary school years. The minds of little ones can easily be molded into any shape or form. Imagine children having their minds filled with places of fantasy, the ability to make words paint pictures, and a hunger for knowledge.

An estimated 77% of children who are read to as children are more likely to read or attempt to read on their own versus 57% of kids who don’t have regular stories read at home. If solid reading skills aren’t formed at the younger stages of life, the odds of dropping out of school increase. Kids who aren’t reading at the correct grade level by third or fourth grade are four times less likely to finish high school.

A walk outside will show that most young people have their eyes glued to social media. These days it seems most reading is accomplished from a Facebook news feed. A combined 56% of middle and high school students say they read 10 or more books a year. At the middle school level, 70% of kids read, while 49% of high school students make the same claim.

Considering that high school is a milestone in the lives of teens, under 20% of high school graduates can read at the basic level. It’s a terrible thought to reflect if you’re a high school graduate who can’t read your accomplishment on your diploma.

Illiteracy hinders young adults interested in higher education or seeking a successful career. These individuals are interlocked in a desperate struggle to stay afloat. With the burdens of life weighing down on their shoulders, the path of crime offers an easy solution.

Illiteracy is vast among the juvenile population involved in hardships with the law. At least 85% of youth who come in contact with the juvenile court system are considered functionally illiterate, meaning they read at a basic or below basic level. The adults in prison don’t fare better than their juvenile counterparts. About 70% of male and female inmates score at the lowest comprehension level for reading.

The education programs offered by the prison proved to be effective because inmates who take advantage of the programs are less likely to commit another crime once released. Inmates who participated in literacy programs were 27% likely to re-offend, but the percentage shot to 60% among those who received no additional education during incarceration.

In the U.S. today, at least 36 million adults can’t read better than an average third grader. It’s horrifying when 20 to 23% of adults in the U.S. read at a basic level. The impact is felt remarkably by an individual, but it trickles down to affect the whole economy.

Illiteracy damages the economy by placing limits on demand for products. It’s estimated the portion of the population that can’t read costs the nation $225 billion each year. Healthcare and reading complement each other. If a serious illness strikes that requires medication, the knowledge of the proper medical use can save lives.

Nearly half of American adults have difficulty comprehending health information. Illiteracy equals smaller paychecks, and smaller paychecks equal insufficient funds for living. Men with lower literacy skills earn $650 or more per week while women of the same reading level earn $300 or less.

The consequences of literacy is an issue that needs to be understood, yet the funding for literacy is put on the back burner then forgotten until the pot boils over. To change this dilemma, it requires a group effort of the nation working together. If a change doesn’t occur, the precious dream will be devoured by the nightmare.


  1. How does home schooling affect children? I suspect that a lot of home schooling is done by parents who may be illiterate themselves and only teach Bible passages. A college trained teacher would not be teaching at home if they are working full time as a teacher at a school. Here in New Mexico they are pushing a bill to allow people to teach without credentials. I think that this is a big mistake.

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