Why Literacy?

The problem of illiteracy in our local area

There are an estimated 14,000+ adults in New Hanover County who function at a literacy level that is categorized as “below basic”. Another 47,000 function at a “basic” level, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. This means that over 61,000 adults in New Hanover County struggle daily to fill out job applications, use maps, understand information from a school or doctor’s office, and countless other tasks that many of us take for granted.

Most adults who struggle with reading, writing, or math have some ability in those areas, but they often have gaps in their knowledge and lack training to make sense independently of the content they encounter. While they do their best to cope, they don’t feel comfortable or confident. These adults need help building their literacy skills if they are to thrive and be able to provide adequately for themselves and their children.

English Language Learners

In New Hanover County, more than 12,700 people live in a household where a language other than English is spoken. (U.S. Census) Adults from other countries who live in America want — and need — to be able to communicate effectively in English for their jobs, their families, and to be part of the community. Some English Language Learners are very educated in their native language and some are not. All of them need to develop reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in English in order to successfully interact in American society.

Who can’t read? You can be sure that these are people you know…

  • Whether or not you know it, everyday you interact with people with low reading skills. No single type of person is prone to reading difficulties.
  • There are many factors that contribute to someone’s going through childhood and teen years and reaching adulthood without being able to read:
  • Having learning difficulties/disabilities
  • Having an illness that interrupted school attendance
  • Moving frequently during school years
  • Living in a home without books and/or focus on education

Below are some of the ways that non-readers cope with the challenges of words:

  • Always ordering the same item at a restaurant or having someone else order for them
  • Using “I forgot my glasses” as a reason not to read
  • Taking paperwork home to fill out
  • Having a short attention span and/or inability to focus

The Problem of Illiteracy

  • Illiteracy affects more than just the person who can’t read. The research-based statistics below provide evidence that illiteracy affects the costs of social services and has a direct effect on your taxes and your community.

Children and Education

  • “Over 1 million school children drop out each year — this eventually costs the U.S. over $240 billion in lost earnings” – Jeff McQuillan, 1998; Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions
  • “The #1 factor in a child’s success in school is whether his/her mother reads.” – US Department of Education and National Institutes of Health
  • “41% of fourth grade boys and 35% of fourth grade girls read below the basic level.” – National Dyslexia Association, 2000
  • “20% of high school seniors can be classified as being functionally illiterate at the time they graduate.” – National Right to Read Foundation

Educational Barriers

  • Overcrowded or chaotic schools and classrooms
  • Inadequate, inexperienced, or inflexible teachers
  • Inappropriate or outdated teaching methods
  • Special help that was too late or even counterproductive


  • “People aged 65 and over score lower on literacy skill levels than any other age group from age 16.” – National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003


  • “60% of those incarcerated in federal/state prisons are illiterate.” – National Institute for Literacy


  • “The strongest predictor of someone’s health status is their literacy skill level.” -Partnership for Clear Health Communication
  • “46% of people cannot read their prescription bottle label.” American Medical Association


  • “Over 70% of adults who read at the lowest levels have no job.” – National Institute for Literacy (NIFL)


  • “43% of adults with low literacy skills live in poverty.” – National Institute for Literacy
  • “Newspapers are written at an 8th grade level; prescriptions are written at a 12th grade level; Americans read at a 7th grade level.” – National Institute for Literacy (NIFL)
  • “For every dollar spent by volunteer literacy programs, the return on investment is a multiple of 33.” – ProLiteracy 2006