Anyone Can Read Now
The extent and seriousness of English functional illiteracy exceeds your worst NIGHTMARE,
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2. Extent of the Problem
Reports have been appearing for the last three decades or more about problems with U.S. illiteracy. Perhaps the earliest and most notable during this period was the April 1983 "A Nation at Risk" report which resulted in numerous educational changes in the U.S. But the most comprehensive study of U.S. literacy ever commissioned by the U.S. government was the five-year, $14 million study involving lengthy interviews of 26,049 adults which was released on September 8, 1993. The 2002 version of this Adult Literacy in America report is available for free download on the Internet at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93275.pdf.
Dr. Diane McGuinness, in her book Why Our Children Can't Read, lists some of the characteristics of the study:
On September 9, 1993, reports about the study appeared on the front pages of a number of newspapers. An article of 1148 words appeared on the New York Times front page (William Celis 3d, "Study Says Half of Adults in U.S. Lack Reading and Math Abilities," The New York Times, p. 1) and a report of 304 words by a Washington Post writer appeared on the front page of a number of other newspapers. (Mary Jordan, writer for the Washington Post, "Nearly Half of Adults in America Lack Necessary Skills, Study Says," The Salt Lake Tribune, p. A1, col. 2-3.) Considering the seriousness of these reports, one would expect changes to have been made to improve U.S. adult literacy, but a 2006 follow-up report by the same group which conducted the 1993 study showed little or no overall statistical improvement in U.S. adult literacy (http://nces.ed.gov/NAAL/PDF/2006470.PDF).
By using a simple ratio multiplication procedure on the data on pages 17, 63, 65, and 66 of the 2002 version of the 1993 study (scroll to the bottom of this page to see the calculations), it is possible to prove that:
In Literacy Level 1 (the least literate), 22% of the 191 million U.S. adults in 1993 (42.0 million of them) had an average annual earnings of only $2105. In Literacy Level 2, 26.7% of the U.S. adults in 1993 (50.9 million of them) had an average earnings of only $5225.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/historical/rdp01.html) the 1993 Threshold Poverty Level for an individual was $6775.
This means that 48.7 percent of all U.S. adults earned significantly less than poverty-level-wages because of illiteracy, which is certainly more shocking than saying "nearly half of U.S. adults cannot hold a decent job because of illiteracy," as the Washington Post writer expressed it. The percentages of U.S. adults shown as "in poverty" on page 61 of the 2002 report were: Level 1: 42.7 percent and Level 2: 21.7 percent. Although all of the average yearly earnings of Level 1 and Level 2 interviewees were below the poverty threshold, they were not all in poverty because of the earnings of another person or persons in the family and, in most cases, because financial assistance from the government, family, friends, and charities brought many of them above the poverty threshold line.
Page 61 of the 2002 report shows that the percentages of Levels 3 through 5 adults who were in poverty were 12, 7.67, and 4.67, respectively (averaging the prose, document and quantitative). When these percentages are multiplied by the number of adults in each level, it shows the number of adults in each level who were in poverty. Adding the total number of adults in poverty in Levels 1 and 2 and Levels 3 through 5 and dividing by the total number of adults in those two groupings of levels shows that 31.2% of Levels 1 and 2 were in poverty, but only 10.1% of Levels 3 through 5 were in poverty. Although there are many reasons for poverty, since the report statistically balanced the interviewees by age, gender, ethnicity, location, etc. and since there is no obvious provable differences other than literacy level, if 10.1 percent is taken as being the poverty not resulting from illiteracy and is deducted from the 31.2 percent, the resulting 21.1 percent due to illiteracy, when compared to 10.1 percent, provides strong evidence that illiteracy causes more than twice as many adults to be in poverty as all other causes combined.
The Calculations Showing the Average Annual Earnings in the Adult Literacy in America Study
The study tests adults in three types of abilities, prose, document, and quantitative, very basically: reading, working with forms, and doing the arithmetical calculations they need to "get by" in life as well as they should. Figure 2.7 on page 63 of the 2002 version of the report lists the percentage of adults, by literacy level, who are employed full time, employed part time, unemployed, and out of the labor force (many of whom gave up looking for a job after years of being unsuccessful). Each of these data points were shown for prose (P), document (D), and quantitative (Q), so the first step is to average the three for each literacy level and employment situation. Level 1 calculations are shown; other literacy levels are calculated the same way.
Out of work force: 52% P, 53% D, 53% Q: (0.52+0.53+0.53)/3 = 0.527
Fraction working: 1 - 0.527 = 0.473
Weeks worked each year, (page 65): average of 19 P, 19 D, 18 Q
(19+19+18)/3 = 18.7 weeks
Percentage of Level 1 adults, from page 17: 21 P, 23 D, 22 Q
(21+23+22)/3 = 22 percent
Total U.S. adults, 1993, from page xvi: 191 million
Total Level 1 adults: 191 million X 0.22 = 42.022 million
Level 1 adults working: 42,022,000 X 0.473 = 19,875,546
Median weekly wages (page 66): $240 P, $244 D, $230 Q
(240+244+230)/3 = $238
weeks per year worked X median weekly wages X number of Level 1 adults who worked = total earnings by all Level 1 adults, combined
18.7 weeks X ($238/week) X 19,875,546 = $88,458,105,000
total earnings by all Level 1 adults combined divided by total number of Level 1 adults = average yearly earnings of all Level 1 adults
$88,458,105,000 divided by 42,022,000 = $2105 yearly average.
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