ellen_marguliesBy Ellen Margulies

This is what the first line of this blog post might look like if you couldn’t read:

Gnkx ix shzg ghd vifxg okjd ov ghix tobk lxxg jktyj oiij okje kv jlj eljkch’g fdzc.

Pretty confusing. Pretty unimaginable for anyone actually reading these words. Yet the statistics about literacy in one of the world’s wealthiest and most educated countries are staggering. Consider the following from dosomething.org:

  • Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  •  1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
  • As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous.Literacy is a learned skill. Illiteracy is passed down from parents who can neither read nor write.
  • Nearly 85 percent of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60 percent of all inmates are functionally illiterate.
  • 53 percent of 4th graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20 percent of 8th graders could say the same. (2009 study)
  • 75 percent of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest 2 levels of literacy, and 90 percent of high school dropouts are on welfare.
  • Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty level and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than the girls their age who can read proficiently.
  • Reports show that low literacy directly costs the healthcare industry over $70 million every year.
  • Long Beach, CA was ranked the country’s most illiterate city, followed by Mesa, AZ, and Aurora, CO.
Even in Nashville, 1 out of every 8 adults can’t read.

Of all the insurmountable problems facing our society today, this seems like one we can actually get a handle on.

The Nashville Adult Literacy Council, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping adults improve their reading and language skills, has many opportunities for volunteers. Volunteers receive training and are matched with adults who need their help. All tutoring takes place in public spaces, and volunteers are asked to make a minimum commitment of six months.

To find out more about how you can help put a stop to illiteracy, visit www.nashvilleliteracy.org.