According to Statistic Brain, 32 million adults in the United States are illiterate.  That’s 14% of the adult population.  That may not seem like a lot compared to the 757 million   illiterate adults in the world, but Americans  are being denied a basic human right. Literacy is a gateway to functioning in society. Illiteracy puts those 32 million Americans at a serious disadvantage because there is a direct correlation between illiteracy and poverty and crime. Illiterates, on average, earn about $230-$245 a week while 70% of inmates can’t read.

Basic literacy is the ability to read and write a simple sentence, but literacy encompasses much more than that simple definition. The National Writing Project, a network of writing professionals, defines literacy are much more. The depiction below shows the many different types of literacy that can be achieved.


These literacy types are critical to the modern world we live in today. For example, computer literacy is becoming a requirement to be able to  function in the work place. Without those skills, one will be limited in their job options. Understanding that literacy has expanded is an important fact to remember, but without the basics none of those different literacy types can be achieved.  So what contributes to illiteracy?

There are three key factors that contribute to illiteracy as defined by Reading Horizons, a foundation devoted to, “simplifying the English language for beginning readers, struggling readers, and English language learners.”  Those three factors include:

  • Learning disabilities – Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities. It is estimated that over 40 million Americans have dyslexia, but only 2 million are aware of it.
  • Teacher Training –  “All secondary teachers are not expected to be trained in teaching foundational literacy skills.”
  • Declined interest in reading – 33% of U.S. high school graduates who will never read a book after high school.

Those are the reasons behind the literacy dilemma, but what is the solution?  There is no one way to improve literacy, but the first should be to enhance our educational system because illiterate children grow up to be illiterate adults.  Many students are already  performing below grade level because teachers are either not equipped to teach children that aren’t on grade level or school conditions are not conducive to learning. The school system isn’t where learning stops, parents also play a big role in effecting their child’s literacy rate. Encouraging children to read often will have a great effect on their reading and writing development.

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