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    Illiteracy - Major U.S. Problem

    By Margarita Nahapetyan

    Recently the United States Department of Education released a long-awaited federal statistics stating that more than 32 million adults in The U.S., or about 14 percent of population, have very low literacy skills. The skills are so low that some of them cannot even read anything more complicated and challenging than a simple children's book with pictures.

    In spite of major gains in all areas of education, illiteracy still remains a big problem in many U.S. communities. Though government and the communities are doing their best to solve the tragedy, the problem is significantly worsening. Libraries, schools and even some local churches have also attacked the problem.

    The latest study found that in the years between 1992 and 2003 about 23 millions of people were added to the population of the United States, and among them almost 3.6 million were illiterate adults. The figures are not kind at all. 75 per cent of unemployed adults have difficulty to read and write on a basic level. 7 in ten 10 adults sentenced to prison perform at the lowest literacy levels. Studies show that 24 per cent of patients with low reading skills even fail to read and understand the instructions or a medication's side effects printed on a pill bottle, not to talk about reading a newspaper. One of the researchers at the U.S. Education Department said that these people often cannot read paragraphs or sentences that are connected together.

    David C. Harvey, president and CEO of ProLiteracy, says that it is about jobs and economy: "More than 1 million people lost their jobs in 2008 and the new unemployment figures are the highest in 16 years, a large number of the unemployed are low-skilled individuals who struggle with everyday reading, writing and math tasks. The administration wants to create new jobs with the stimulus packages, but to take advantage of those new positions, these adults need basic literacy skills."

    ProLiteracy is an organization that works with adult learners in partnership with local, national, and international organizations. It provides training, professional development, and advocacy, develops and distributes materials which are used to teach adults how to read and write, math, and English as a second language. ProLiteracy has its filials in all 50 U.S. states and works with 125 nongovernmental international agencies.

    According to the organization, illiteracy problem costs American businesses more than 60 billion dollars every year in lost productivity and health and safety issues. Around 90% of the victims do not get help due to a lack of funding at the federal, state and local levels. Organization suggests that program funding would be beneficial for the economy by providing additional tax income, more employment and reduced welfare payments.

    ProLiteracy also estimates:

    • 63 percent of prison inmates cannot read
    • 774 million people worldwide are illiterate
    • Two-thirds of the world's illiterate are women

    If parents can't read, there's a good chance children will be poor readers as well, the organization notes.

    The United States haven't really made any progress in all these years of battling illiteracy. Few states, such as California, New York and Florida

    offered innovative programming for their people and have all shown increases in illiteracy rates. The figures have also improved in a few states, like Mississippi, Rhode Island and Kentucky. But worldwide, the United States doesn't stack up too well in general. Fourteen countries rank higher in reading ability than the United States, including Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, South Korea, UK, Japan, Sweden, Iceland, Belgium, Austria, France and Norway.

    Illiteracy is a real tragedy and people who lack basic knowledge of literacy are real victims because most often they suffer shameful silence. They are ashamed that if others find out, their mental abilities might be questioned. Therefore, illiterates have to maneuver, looking for clever tricks maybe, to get by, with the hope that they will be able to continue covering up their problem. At the same time, there is a constant fear deep inside that one day they could be found out and laughed at. The inability to read and understand leads to other major problems, both personal and societal. In fact, the reality of illiteracy touches every aspect of life, starting with crime and poverty to teenage pregnancy and substance abuse.

    So, what is there anything at all that could be done to help illiterate people? Community support, for adult literacy programs can be considered as one of a positive steps. Volunteers are always welcome in the combat against the problem, whether they will participate in community action groups, or just try to change negative attitude, prejudice and misconceptions among co-workers, neighbors and friends. And, finally an investment in education and support programs is critical. "There's always a task better suited for somebody else to do, and there's never enough people to go around."

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