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Annual World Book Day takes place on April 23 across the globe. This special day, inaugurated in 1995, celebrates reading and publishing. Sadly, not everyone around the world is able to celebrate this day, especially in countries with low literacy rates. Let’s take a look at literacy facts in the United States.
1. A most ambitious (and failed) goal: In 1990, the National Governor’s Association (including then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton) adopted a goal that read, “By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and Exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.” This was followed by the 1991 National Literacy Act, which aimed “to enhance the literacy and basic skills of adults.”
2. A lack of progress over time: As of April 2013, the U.S. literacy rate hadn’t improved in 10 years. 14% of adults fell into a “below basic” literacy level while 29% demonstrated a “basic” reading level.
3. Breaking down those statistics even further: In the U.S., 32 million adults are unable to read. 21% of adults are functionally illiterate (meaning they cannot read above the 4th-grade level). 19% of students who graduate from high school never learned to read either.
4. The continuing downslide of illiteracy: Literacy rates aren’t simply about knowing how to read and write. When push comes to shove, illiterate adults demonstrate far less economic security and access to health care as adults who can read.
5. The link between illiteracy and crime: 85% of juvenile offenders are illiterate while 70% of prison inmates cannot read past an elementary school level. 26% of inmates grew up with at least one parent who couldn’t read. The Department of Justice says, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.”
6. Comparative literacy: The United States ranks 16th out of 23 ranked countries in literary proficiency. This failure stands in sharp contrast to the increase in U.S. high school graduation rates.
7. The cost of illiteracy: In addition to the cost of housing prison inmates and welfare for high school dropouts, healthcare costs are greater for adults who cannot read. $73 million in additional direct health care costs are associated with illiteracy.
8. Literacy & the aging brain: Illiterate adults suffer from mental decline at a younger age than their literate counterparts. Adults who can read at a 9th-grade level or above are 4-5 times more likely to keep hold of their mental capacity while aging.
9. Lost productivity on the job: 5.5 million adults that hold jobs are functionally illiterate. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that low literacy rates amongst adults costs businesses around $225 billion annually.
10. Family literacy is vital: The most important factor in a child’s future (even more so than overall financial status) is their mother’s ability to read. Those children whose mothers read with them on a regular basis will score an average of 10 points higher on standardized tests.