It’s something we use every single day, whether it’s to celebrate a victory, express sorrow, debate our opinions, or enhance our knowledge of a topic. As we celebrate National Literacy Month this September it can’t be understated how important the ability to read, write and do basic mathematical computations is.
Yet, it’s a skill not everyone is fortunate to have. According to the National Literacy Institute, illiteracy has become such a serious problem in the United States that 130 million adults are now unable to read a simple story to their children. In 2022, approximately 21% of adults in the U.S. were illiterate and 54% of adults had a literacy below the sixth-grade level.
For the illiterate, the simple task of understanding information on a job application or comprehending directions on a pill bottle is a challenge. Simple tasks become paralyzing obstacles when trying to navigate the world.
According to NLI and the ProLiteracy organization:
• Between 46% and 51% of American adults have an income well below the poverty level because of their inability to read;
• Illiteracy costs American taxpayers an estimated $20 billion a year:
• Bringing all adults to the equivalent of a sixth-grade reading level would generate an additional $2.2 trillion in annual income for the country; and
• Up to $238 billion in health care costs a year are linked to low adult literacy skills.
Helping people learn how to read, write, do basic math, and use computers gives them power. Power to lift themselves out of poverty. Power to reduce health care costs. Power to find and keep sustainable employment.
Ultimately, the power to change their lives.
The answer to improving literacy rates starts with educating children early. According to the Partners for Public Education, one of the best ways to prepare young children for school and to nurture a lifelong love of reading is to make sure they have access to quality books before they even enter the classroom.
There are many great ways to start a child on the path to reading. First, sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library; Central Floridians can find multiple options at https://imaginationlibrary.com. Through this program, children will receive one book every month until they reach the age of five.
You can also head to any public library and get a free library card for access to all kinds of children’s books, movies and more. What better month than National Library Card Sign-Up Month?
In addition to providing tons of reading material, libraries promote early literacy through story programs, classes and a variety of other programs for children of all ages to help improve their literacy skills. The breadth of resources is truly breathtaking — and there are dozens of branches throughout Central Florida as well as websites full of digital offerings.
But it’s never too late. The Adult Literacy League (www.adultliteracyleague.org) is one of the largest adult-literacy programs in Central Florida, but there are others listed in a national directory at www.nld.org. If you know someone who struggles with reading or other basic skills, please encourage them to reach out.
So, pick up a book and get reading today!
This editorial is adapted from one that first appeared in the South Platte (Colorado) Sentinel. The Orlando Sentinel publishes editorials from other outlets that generally reflect the values of the Sentinel’s editorial board.
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