A few months ago, there was a bit of hubbub when Minneapolis knocked off Washington, D.C., for the top spot in the “Most Literate City in America” study. Produced each year by Dr. Jack Miller of Central Connecticut State University, the study draws on the number of book stores, libraries, education levels, and other factors in major cities across the U.S. to determine a winner.
This year, Dr. Miller made an interesting observation by noting the following:
“Americans are becoming more and more educated, but less and less literate. There is greater level of school completion than in any time in the past. Yet, the international achievement test scores of Americans in comparison to scores from countries indicate that the United States continues to lag behind many countries of the world, including the emergent literate cultures of South Korea, Singapore, Japan, and others.”
The most recent numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics show that 14% of American adults are classified as illiterate. Such a number might not seem all that terrible… until one hears how much that percentage costs the U.S. each year.
According to the World Literacy Foundation, illiteracy costs the United States $362.49 billion every year! (See chart below.) This loss stems from the limited ability of illiterate adults to hold jobs or be productive at the ones they do hold. Costs also accumulate from poor health and higher crime and welfare rates, which occur in higher incidences among the illiterate.
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.