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The Most Solvable Problem

Wed, Jun 1, 2011

Jim LoBianco

Addressing the issues of poverty and homelessness is daunting and complex. Local issues like the economy, limited job opportunities, and the changing housing market are often well. beyond the reach of social service agencies.

Personal issues like substance abuse, mental illness, and ex-offender reentry fall directly within the purview of social service providers; however, success on these issues relies as much on the personal motivation of the client as it does on the skills of the social worker.
These areas rightfully take up the majority of focus for those who have dedicated their careers to ending poverty in America. Still, there is another leading factor which, in a country as rich and free as the United States, should not even be a consideration: Illiteracy.
According to the National Right to Read Foundation (NRRF), 42 million Americans are functionally illiterate; meaning they cannot read, write or perform simple math. Another 50 million Americans cannot read past the 4th grade level. It is also reported that 20% of high school seniors can be described as functionally illiterate at the time of graduation. In a country where public education is deemed the bedrock of a free society, these statistics are appalling.
In our country every child has the right to a free quality education. Unfortunately, the question of whether or not they actually receive a quality education is highly debatable. For years media, numerous think-tanks, and advocacy groups have tried to keep the nation focused on this scandalous failing of our country’s education system. Nonetheless, the impact of illiteracy on the health and welfare of U.S. as a whole bears repeating.

Illiteracy and its economic impact – Adult illiteracy costs society an estimated $240 billion each year in lost industrial productivity, unrealized tax revenues, welfare, crime, poverty, and related social ills.

Illiteracy and the workplace – According to the NALS, 40% of the labor force in the United States has limited skills. American businesses lose more than $60 billion in productivity each year to employee’s lack of basic skills.

Illiteracy and the criminal justice system – The rate of illiteracy in America’s correctional systems is over 60% (National Institutes of Health)
Solving America’s illiteracy problem at its root, within the primary education system, is the most effective way to alleviate many of the other complicating factors of poverty in general. Mayor Emanuel and the Illinois General Assembly are taking steps to increase the length of the school day, which is a good start. Unfortunately, improving the quality of public education will take the time and attention of all concerned citizens, and rightfully so. Providing a high quality education to our City’s (and our Country’s) youth would make many of the current social service and criminal justice programs unnecessary.

Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

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2 Responses to “The Most Solvable Problem”

  1. Voice of Reason says:

    “From the Director, Latest News”, is a bit of a misnomer for your 6/13/2011 post.

    While I agree with your premise that the impact of illiteracy on our society “bears repeating”, the illiteracy statistics you quote in this article bear updating.

    Sadly, I found that they do, however, seem to be the most current statistics available! The dearth of more recent reports on illiteracy is a sad commentary on the lack of consideration given the subject in our society.

    The first figures you used in your article were published by the NRRF in 2007. If one does the math using the NRRF’s estimated annual increase in illiteracy (approximately +2.25 million functionally illiterate people per year), the result is a staggering 51 million functionally illiterate adults in 2011.

    You also used figures from the 1993-1998 study (published belatedly in 2002)conducted by the National Institute for Literacy. I’ve found reference to only two smaller, private studies on illiteracy: one done in 2006, and an even smaller, one-city study done in 2009, neither of which were broad enough in scope to warrant citation in your article.

    In doing a cursory Google search for “2011 U.S. illiteracy statistics”, I found that more current statistics than those you used, simply had not been compiled by the sources you cited. Further, I was disappointed to find that nearly every current article written on the subject by various authors used these very same statistics which are between 4 to 14 years old!…Which begs the question: How many more years will we continue to recycle old news and overlook the ever growing elephant in the room?

  2. Ann says:

    You can sit and argue statistics all day long. The question then becomes what can be done about this?
    Until parents are held accountable for instilling the importance of school attendance and home work assignments this problem will only escalate. Board members of each school district must also put a program into place which stipulates that no first or second grader, depending on the situation, be passed onto the next grade level, if they cannot read at that level. Teachers have attested to this problem for long enough. And just where is the common sense. Any child who is passed and is already struggling is certainly being set up for failure down the road. They know this and it only puts a damper on their already hopeless attitudes. Wake up America.

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