Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ill-Equipped 47% of U.S. Adults Can Barely Read, Write

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ill-Equipped 47% of U.S. Adults Can Barely Read, Write

Article excerpt

Nearly half of adult Americans read and write so poorly that they are unable to function effectively in the work place, says a report released Wednesday by the Department of Education.

Education officials stopped short of using the word "illiterate" to describe those at the lowest ability levels, saying many have rudimentary reading, writing and math skills.

The 90 million people with poor literacy skills make up 47 percent of the nation's 191 million adults.

"The number is shocking, but that doesn't surprise me," Education Secretary Dick Riley said after revealing the survey results. He noted that many of those with low reading, writing and math skills also live in poverty.

The study, ordered by Congress, estimates that:

As many as 40 million of the nation's 191 million adults possess the lowest level of skills, meaning they can total an entry on a bank deposit slip, locate the time or place of a meeting, or identify a piece of specific information in a brief news article. Many of the respondents were unable to complete even those tasks.

Fifty million more have the skills to calculate the total of a purchase, determine the difference in price between two items, locate a particular intersection on a street map and enter background information on a simple form.

Sixty-one million more adults can decipher information from long or dense texts or documents, while 34 million to 40 million more possess the highest skills required for the most challenging tasks.

According to the survey, young adults - 21 to 25 years old - surveyed last year showed literacy skills 11 to 14 percentage points lower than those in the same age group taking part in a 1985 survey.

The report blames in part the shifting demographics of the population, particularly the number of people speaking English as a second language.

Many classified as the least literate either never read newspapers or rarely did and received most of their information from TV or radio.

The report also shows that:

Older adults were more likely than middle-age and younger adults to show limited literacy skills. …

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