Illiteracy Blog

UWYC BLOG: Illiteracy


Illiteracy was supposed to have been cured. Schools are free, all students must receive an education, and it seems like an unofficial requirement to simply be alive to today’s complex world. Indeed it has been declared that in this nation, illiteracy has been wiped out. Unfortunately for many people illiteracy is a reality, and a very difficult barrier to accessing the promise of our nation.

Nationwide the National Institute of Literacy estimates that 14% of all adults (32 million Americans above the age of 18) are functionally illiterate, figures below even Bermuda. The definition of functional illiteracy changes throughout research literature but in this case an adult is functionally illiterate if “they cannot read well enough to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level.” This higher standard of literacy needs to be widely adopted if we are to affect serious change going forward.



This new form of illiteracy wreaks havoc on our economy and our families. According to the Department of Justice, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." According to  85% of youth going through the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 60% of adult inmates are unable to read above even a fourth grade level.


Indeed there is much evidence that a renewed focus on improving real literacy will bring about many positive changes. According to National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) penal institution records show that inmates only have a 16% recidivism rate if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% for those who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate.

Improving literacy rates will do more than simply decrease crime and keep families together. provides estimates that poor literacy increases national health care costs by $230 billion and is a $225 billion dollar drag on the economy. Improving literacy could make our economy half a trillion dollars stronger!

Yellowstone County is one of the best counties in Montana at graduating and attracting literate adults. The functional illiteracy rate is only 8.3%, fifth best in the state. This also means that almost ten thousand neighbors are reading at an unsuitable level. The United Way of Yellowstone County's program Reading Matters has a campaign to make sure that every child has a chance to learn to read and achieve a better future.

If you need help visualizing funtional illiteracy check out the literacy competition we're hosting our of Facebook page