Adult illiteracy: the hidden crisis in plain sight

A Chicago-based organization is trying to increase ‘functional literacy’ in U.S.

Adult Literacy: the hidden crisis in plain sight
Adult Literacy: the hidden crisis in plain sight

CHICAGO – It’s a crisis hidden in plain sight, as about 20 percent of people in the United States cannot read at all and 50 percent of adults can’t read to pass an eighth-grade level. An organization is looking to change those numbers when it comes to adult illiteracy.

According to the San Antonio Public Library, the city of San Antonio has one of the lowest literacy rates in the nation. About 25% of adults living here are “functionally illiterate,” or not able to read at a fifth-grade level.

Not being able to read can impact a person’s daily life, from high unemployment, low wages, and even poor health care.

“People who can’t read have all kinds of troubles in life that you might not even think of,” Joanne Telser-Frere, Director of Program Development at Literacy Chicago told Ivanhoe.

Issues for those who cannot read include trying to read street signs while driving, a prescription bottle from their doctor, or even a menu at a restaurant.

Joanne exclaimed, “You can’t read the menu, you don’t know what you are going to get, so they just say, ‘I’ll have what that guy is having over there.’”

Unemployment rates can be two to four times higher for those with little schooling compared to people with a bachelor’s degree.

“I was a little afraid of taking different jobs because I didn’t know how to read,” Janie Moore said.

That’s why Joanne is part of Literacy Chicago, an organization whose mission it is to empower adults through reading.

For adult learners wanting to learn to read, the first step is, don’t be ashamed. It can discourage you from even trying. To get over that hurdle, look for some support.

“People often need someone to tell them they can do it, because their whole life they’ve been told they can’t,” Joanne said.

Label everything in your house and when you see a word say it. Finally, find something you want to read, which could be comic books, subtitles on a television program, and magazines.

“I used to tell people, I don’t care if you read playboy, as long as you’re reading,” remarked Joanne.

Constant practice every day brings adult learners closer to learning how to read and more opportunities.

Literacy Chicago classes are free to students. It is funded through government grants and private donations. They currently have over 150 volunteers and with COVID-19 bringing classes online, volunteers can be from anywhere.