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San Antonio’s Adult Literacy Epidemic

Written by on August 7, 2018

If you are reading this article, you’re one of the seventy five percent of of adults in San Antonio who are literate.  Sadly, approximately twenty five percent of San Antonio’s adult population reads at a 5th grade level according to the U.S. Census.

Among the many challenges that permeate international conversations—poverty, human rights, and global climate change—adult illiteracy is often forgotten.

For most of us, learning to read is a blurry, forgotten childhood memory, a skill taken for granted, even though it is skill we use almost constantly.

According to the Central Connecticut State University, which has conducted a national literacy study since 2005, San Antonio is one of the least literate cities in the country. In 2016, out of the 82 cities studied, San Antonio was ranked the 76th most literate city, just below Fresno, CA.  Of the largest 35 cities San Antonio is ranked dead last.

The problem is by no means limited to San Antonio, however.  According to ProLiteracy, over 36 million adults in the U.S. “cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third grade level.”  In 2014, the Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy released an international study of literacy. The U.S.’s literacy level was lower than the international average, and it was ranked lower than 12 countries including Canada, Japan, and Australia—all of which we are in competition for jobs.

The results indicate that illiteracy affects many different socioeconomic factors. For example, most of the adults who had the lowest scores in each type of literacy were unemployed and not seeking a job. Those at the lowest literacy level who were employed reported working fewer weeks per year and earning a lower salary than those who had higher scores.  

Businesses face losses when their workers lack adequate skills. In his article for Real Clear Policy, Alan Daley describes the problem; 75% of manufacturers say that some of their workers, to some degree, lack the necessary skills to fulfill their responsibilities. This issue leads to as much as 11% revenue loss, due to a higher cost of production and decreased sales.

Having adequate skills will also help our economy. According to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “cognitive skills are highly significantly associated with economic growth.”  Today, many people are being left behind, trying to navigate a changing world they cannot understand.

Education has historically been a tool wielded by authoritarian figures. Those in power took measures to ensure that education was exclusively for the upper and ruling classes. Therefore those at a lower socioeconomic levels became dependent on the upper classes for employment.

The question has long been asked whether the low-information community of San Antonio is kept that way by decision makers and politicians because they have failed to allocate funds to deal with San Antonio’s reading crisis.

Low reading also equals low voter participation in elections.  People are not reaching their potential because of a lack of funding to groups combatting adult literacy. Keep reading KROV for more on what San Antonio could do to uncap the potential of the twenty-five percent of adults who cannot read above a 5th grade level.


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