The Problem

Why is Illiteracy a Problem?

When people think of the social problem of illiteracy, they often think of individuals who are completely incapable of reading anything.  While cases like these are relatively common in developing nations, the problem of illiteracy in developed countries like the United States is slightly different – specifically, it is the lack of functional literacy’.

What is Functional Literacy?

Functional literacy can be defined as the ability to read and write at a level required to function competently in modern life.  This might mean being able to read a newspaper, restaurant menu, road directions, manuals/instructions, to being able to read and understand bank statements or tax forms, or being able to read books to facilitate the learning of new skills.


Why is Functional Literacy so important?

Functional literacy enables an individual to find a way to sustain a living by being able to competently perform a job as a member of the workforce.

Not surprisingly, individuals with inadequate or low literacy levels face very poor prospects in terms of education, employment, quality of life, and health.


  • Of 1.3 million offenders in prison, more than 70% are functionally illiterate, suggesting a direct connection between illiteracy, poverty, and crime.
  • Of unemployed adults, 75% have reading and writing difficulties.
  • Illiteracy costs the United States more than $225 billion per year in sub-par job performance, welfare payments, crime/poverty, lost taxes, and remedial education.
(Source: U.S. Department of Education)
Literacy Facts - Infographics

(Sources: The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (Department of Education); The Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report; Bureau of Labor Statistics (Department of Labor); The United Nations; USAID 2012; UNESCO)