The non-profit group ProLiteracy defines literacy as "the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member." The group reports that, in the United States, 14 percent of people over the age of 16 do not have the reading and comprehension skills required to fill out a job application.
Adult learning and literacy is important because low literacy affects individuals, families and society in a variety of adverse ways. It impacts health, crime rates, employment and future generations.
According to ProLiteracy, the ability to read and write is the foundation for all other learning. When adults lack basic literacy skills, which include reading, writing, problem solving abilities and the use of common technologies, they are unable to take part in society fully and they limit their employment, health and other options.
Impact on Health Care
The American Medical Association reports that 46 percent of American adults cannot read medical instructions. This means nearly half of Americans have difficulties comprehending information provided by their physicians and understanding their prescriptions and are unable to self-educate on matters of health. According to ProLiteracy, this disparity adds between $106 and $238 billion annually to U.S. health care costs--as much as 17 percent of total annual spending.
Impact on Employment
The National Institute for Literacy has found issues with adult literacy cost U.S. companies more than $60 million in productivity on an annual basis. To maintain employment, employees need to be able to read and comprehend all instructions related to their job. This may mean safety requirements, understanding and using technology, or simply communicating with others in their company. As technology progresses, so do the literacy and learning requirements for job advancement.
Impact on Crime
ProLiteracy states there is a strong connection between crime and adult illiteracy. ProLiteracy reports that more than 60 percent of all those imprisoned in state and federal correction institutions are barely able to read and write. Literacynet reports that inmates who participate in education while incarcerated have lower levels of rearrest, re-conviction and re-incarceration.
Impact on Children's Education
The children of unemployed parents without a high school diploma are five times as likely to drop out of school themselves, according to Literacynet. Children learn from their parents. When their parents are unable to assist with fundamentals such as reading, children will be less prepared and less likely to succeed in school. When low-literacy adults are educated, it allows them to help their children learn and take part in their education.
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