Illiteracy and the Cost to Individuals, Essay Example
According to author Jonathan Kozol, almost one-third of Americans cannot read nor write. They cannot read the headlines in a newspaper; they cannot read the instructions on a prescription drug bottle; they cannot read street signs; and they cannot read their own mail. One-third of Americans equals to about eighty million individuals. As Kozol points out, most of America’s illiterate citizens are white; however, taken as a whole, “the figures are higher for blacks and Hispanics” with about 44% of African Americans and 56% of Hispanics being either functionally or marginally illiterate. In addition, almost 20% of high school graduates that live in urban areas cannot read above the 6th grade level; more than one million American teenagers cannot read above the 3rd grade level; and almost a staggering 90% of “juveniles who come before the courts are functionally illiterate” (“Illiterate America”).
According to a 2012 study by the World Literacy Foundation, complete illiteracy can be defined as when a person “cannot read or write at all,” while functional illiteracy refers to a person who possesses “basic reading, writing and numerical skills but cannot apply them to accomplish tasks” that are needed to make everyday choices and to participate in society (Cree, Kay, & Steward 3). For the individual person, the cost related to not being able to read and write is staggering, due to the fact that such a person cannot function in society, especially when employed in a job that requires reading and writing skills. This may help to explain why the majority of Americans who cannot read or write are employed as menial laborers, such as janitors, construction workers, grocery clerks, and other positions in which reading and writing is not necessarily a requirement of their job.
Some of the activities that an illiterate or functionally illiterate person may find difficult to do because of their inability to read and write includes voting in elections, due to being unable to read the voting ballots and to fill out forms that are necessary to vote in state and federal elections; using the Internet to purchase goods and services and to apply for things like Social Security and disability, due to not being able to use a keyboard or to read forms and instructions; using email to stay in touch with friends and family members and social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook; obtaining a higher education, due to an inability to fill out the required forms for admission, scholarships, and student loans, not to mention writing class assigned papers and homework; applying for a driver’s license or some other type of permit that would allow them to expand their employment horizons; and lastly, helping their children with homework and paying household bills (Cree, Kay, & Steward 3).
Certainly, one of the most important areas related to being unable to read and write is personal income or the ability to make a decent living in order to survive. As the World Literary Foundation points out, individuals who are completely illiterate or functionally illiterate earn almost 50% less than individuals who read and write; also, not having proper literacy skills greatly impacts an individual’s ability to “undertake further vocational education or training to improve their earning potential” (Cree, Kay, & Steward 4). Therefore, society itself is negatively affected by individuals who cannot read and write, especially related to participating fully in a democratic system that depends upon the abilities of its citizens to contribute to the advancement of a given society and how it operates.
Cree, Anthony, Kay, Andrew, and June Steward. “The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy: A Snapshot of Illiteracy in a Global Context.” World Literacy Foundation. 2012. Web. 7 December 2013. http://www.worldliteracyfoundation.org/The_Economic_&_Social_Cost_of_Illiteracy.pdf
Kozol, Jonathan. “Illiterate America.” 1990. Web. 7 December 2013. http://eserver.org/courses/spring97/76100o/readings/kozol.html
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