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Friday, July 19, 2024

Illiteracy: serious socio-economic issue

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On average, people would arguably agree, most adults are able to move through life’s daily tasks uninhibited by the inefficiency to perform small duties such as reading the newspaper, assisting children with schoolwork, filling out employment forms or other normative functions in life.

However, alarmingly, one in five adults in Indianapolis can’t read, severely limiting their ability to adequately perform fundamental responsibilities.

According to various sources, functional illiteracy, the inability to effectively write, read or use computational skills, is not just an educational concern, but also an economic and health issue leaving adults subject to social intimidation, stress, low income, and other risks.

Travis DiNicola, director for Indy Reads, a nonprofit group designed to provide free tutoring services to adults in Central Indiana who are functionally illiterate, says 20 percent of adults in Indianapolis who can’t read is not a statistic that’s limited to just Marion County, and in most cases is far less in comparison to Detroit and South Carolina.

“In other cities 50 percent of adults read below a sixth grade level, which makes it very difficult to be self sufficient,” DiNicola said. “And of the 500 students we are currently assisting, nearly half are African-Americans.”

David Harvey, president and CEO of ProLiteracy, says social issues inclusive of low-income households disproportionably have a large effect on adult illiteracy along with undiagnosed learning disabilities, failing schools and immigration.

“We know that people who live in poverty have a leg down in what society has to offer in every way,” Harvey said. “That includes accessing quality health care, social services, earning a living wage and getting access in specialized services when there are problems like learning disabilities.”

He notes that minorities are affected in large numbers.

“Unfortunately, there are economic disparities based on racial groups in the U.S. and adult literacy is interconnected to all of these issues. As a result, people of color are disproportionally impacted by the adult illiteracy problem,” Harvey said.

Adult low literacy can and is connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the U.S. Illiteracy costs society nearly $2 billion a year in annual health care spending and upward to $2.5 billion in lost productivity in the workforce.

DiNicola says often times functionally illiterate adults avoid doctor’s offices due to the extensive paper work that has to be filled out. In turn, they go to the emergency rooms where the forms are already filled out.

“This is a very expensive copy mechanism and it’s a cycle,” DiNicola said. “It’s exhausting for the people who have to live through it and it’s a drain on the economy.”

He said, “For each person who is struggling with reading, it costs the community about $20,000 annually per person as it relates to health care.”

Studies suggest not only is there a clear correlation between adult illiteracy and crime but also both DiNicola and Anita Holten, director of Indiana for the National Right to Read Foundation, say there is a distinct relationship between illiteracy and self esteem issues.

“Many of our students who come to us tell us their employer or spouses don’t even know they can’t read. So many of them hide it.” DiNicola said.

Holten says she’s encountered adults who are shameful, humiliated, angry and fearful of rejection, and she notes adult functional illiteracy in part, is a massive failure of the educational system.

“There is plenty of blame to go around. Schools teach to the level of low expectations to the minority and Black students and so many people slip through the cracks who are unable to read,” Holten said. “All people have the ability, but they haven’t been taught.”

With a third of the U.S. adult population being functionally illiterate, affecting minorities in large numbers and other racial lines, the adult illiteracy problem in the U.S. is a symptom of larger social problems that affect all.

For more information about adult illiteracy assistance programs call Indy Reads at (317) 275-4040.

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