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Causes & Problems of Illiteracy

Some people are surprised to learn that there is still a problem with illiteracy in the United States, or in the rest of the world, for that matter. While great progress has been made in creating educational opportunities for the world's people, illiteracy still has a substantial presence in the modern world. In the United States, approximately 20 percent of the population operates at the lowest levels of English literacy (Adult literacy in America, 1993).

This means that there are adult men and women who cannot read newspaper headlines, or unfamiliar street signs, or menus in restaurants, or safety instructions on the job. It means that there is a sizable minority of people who are unequipped for participation in a sophisticated informationbased world economy (Dolan and Scariano, 1995).

Illiteracy is not just a matter of not being able to read books, as was indicated above. It affects many of the activities of adult daily living and it presents a major obstacle to effectiveness in job and home life. For example, statistics indicate that approximately 43 percent of those with literacy problems live in poverty and approximately 70 percent of that same population is without a full or parttime job (Fast facts on literacy, 1999). Even more telling is the fact that prisoners tend to have even lower literacy skills than the general population. When adult education programs in the prisons address those literacy deficits, the results are less recidivism (Literacy: It's a whole new world, 1998).

What exactly do we mean when we talk about illiteracy. For the U.S. Department of Education, that was an important question that formed the foundation for their study of adult literacy in America during the early part of this decade. The study emphasized that literacy was generally not something someone had or did not have. Instead, there is a continuum of abilities in which individuals have greater or lesser literacy. In addit...

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