AlphabetLook up literacy rates of countries around the globe and you’ll likely find a near-perfect score for the U.S. However, that 99 percentile assessment is glossing over some key issues regarding the ability of Americans to read, write, and comprehend—and the broad-ranging implications low literacy carries.

DoSomething.org published a list of 11 Facts About Literacy in America. Here are some of the most telling findings:

Findings on Literacy in America

There is a correlation between low literacy and jail time.   Over 65% of students who can’t read competently by the time they finish 4th grade will be in jail or on welfare at some point in their lives. Close to 85% of youth tried as juveniles are functionally illiterate. 7 out of 10 inmates in prison cannot read above a 4th grade level.
There is a correlation between low literacy and welfare. An estimated 75% of Americans receiving food stamps function at the two lowest levels of literacy.
Americans are generationally becoming less literate. In a study done in 2011, America was identified as the only free-market OECD country in which the current generation was less well-educated than the prior generation.
You can be literate, but functionally illiterate.  These statistics defy the 99% percentile of literacy. That is become literacy is a broad term that doesn’t account for literacy that is so basic that it is not functional in daily use.
Low healthcare literacy costs the U.S. millions (if not billions) of dollars annually.  Low health literacy relates to the ability of individuals to grasp basic health information, take medications according to prescriptions, and utilize the healthcare system. An estimated $70M to over $230B is lost annually due to low health literacy.

Literacy, Ripe for Social Innovation

Beginning to understand the truth about literacy calls for action. Social innovators are well-suited to utilize scarce resources to create meaningful impact in the realm of literacy. Though socio-economic conditions can impact the access to education a child or adult has to resources that teach literacy—literacy is, at its essence, a learned skill. It can be taught at any age.

Social Entrepreneurs Tackling the Literacy Divide

There are social entrepreneurs who are addressing this issue. Take a look at Innov8Social’s recent interview with one of the co-founders of Knowji–a mobile app specifically designed to address the country’s literacy divide.

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