Editorial: Do You Read Me?

September 8 is International Literacy Day which was first established in 1965 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Now, before anyone starts babbling about one-world government and global dictatorships, let’s just stick to the facts—there are one billion non-literate adults in the world and 32 million of them are in the United States. That’s not good.

Reading is almost always essential to success unless you are very, very good at sports. Even then, you have to be able to read the playbook. (Yes, there are words to go with the diagrams.) Whether the words are on a printed page or a computer screen, you have to be able to read them to get the message.

Obviously, literacy is of great importance to our industry. Sure, we can print pretty pictures, but again there usually are words with them—sentences, and paragraphs, and such. Sometimes a picture is really worth a thousand words. Sometimes it isn’t.

That 32 million figure translates to about 14% of the adult population. As bad as that might sound for a country that sometimes has the illusion of being the center of the universe, it pales in comparison with the rest of the world. In the least developed countries, the overall illiteracy rate is 49%. Who cares? Well, we probably should since they are as much a part of the global economy as we are.

Speaking of the economy, you may have noticed that our unemployment rate is hovering around 10%. That’s a whole bunch of people out of work. In an article at www.livescience.com the CEO of ProLiteracy says: “A large number of the unemployed are low-skilled individuals who struggle with everyday reading, writing, and math tasks. The administration wants to create new jobs with stimulus packages, but to take advantage of these new positions, these adults need basic literacy skills.”

On the employer side, ProLiteracy estimates that illiteracy costs U.S. businesses $60 billion annually in lost productivity and health and safety issues.

That said, let’s get back to Literacy Day. This year’s theme is “The Power of Literacy” and UNESCO hopes to “highlight the empowering role of literacy and its importance for participation, citizenship, and social development.” If you want to find out more about the problem of illiteracy and what some folks are trying to do about it, check out the National Institute for Literacy (http://lincs.ed.gov/). Of course, you have to be literate to read what’s on the website.