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Why Literacy Matters

“Being unable to read is like being blind.” This is how one of The Literacy Center’s students described his personal world of shame and darkness before he enrolled in classes at our Bluffton Learning Center.


Unfortunately, he is not alone.


As many as 44 million (23%) adults in the United States are functionally illiterate, lacking basic skills beyond a fourth-grade level, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey. In Beaufort County alone, 11% (10,745) of adult residents fit this profile, based on information from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. In neighboring Jasper County, that figure hovers near 27%.


Low literacy individuals struggle to find employment; they settle for low-paying jobs; they fight to increase their earning power and to support their families. They under-utilize the healthcare system out of fear, or over-utilize it because they are unable to follow written instructions on prescriptions or discharge papers.


Perhaps most heartbreaking is the long term effect their low-literacy has on their children – children who never hear a bedtime story or receive help with homework because their parent can’t read. Low literacy becomes intergenerational: the strongest indicator of a child’s success in school is his mother’s level of education.


If you think illiteracy doesn’t affect you, think again. The plight of low-literacy stretches beyond individual families and impacts us all.


• Low literacy costs American businesses and taxpayers more than $225 billion annually, through lost wages, unemployment, welfare and other government assistance.

• Low literacy adds $230 billion to the annual cost of delivering healthcare in the United States. International studies have found that the greatest single indicator of family and community health is the educational level of the mother.

• There’s a link between low literacy and crime. Seventy-five percent of adults incarcerated in state prisons lack a high school diploma or have low literacy skills.

• The greatest single indicator of a child’s academic success is the educational level of his/her mother. If a parent can’t read, the child starts school at a disadvantage. Then, once the child is in school, the parent is unable to help with homework. Low literacy perpetuates across generations.

• Our local economy needs a prepared, educated workforce to draw new businesses to our area and to keep pace with new technology.

• Individuals with low literacy are less likely to vote or participate in civic activities.


We’re all affected by low literacy, whether through higher taxes or increased local crime rates. That’s why supporting adult literacy services is vital to the health of our community. The services and instruction provided by The Literacy Center empowers individuals and enriches our community.