Literacy matters beyond the individual.
Illiteracy is adversity. Simply put, it is the inability to read or write, but what does it mean on a societal level? It is relevant to understand illiteracy's devastating impacts beyond the individual. As the foundation for a thriving society and healthy economy, literacy levels affect communities in far greater and more intricate ways than one might think.

The prevalence of low literacy may surprise you. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 43 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level. In DuPage County alone, 7% of residents older than 16 lack English literacy skills, as highlighted in the 2019 Community Needs Assessment1. The Chicago Literacy Alliance reported that this figure hovers around 30% in Chicago2.

Before coming to Literacy DuPage, our learners struggle to find employment or are not considered for promotions. Repeatedly, we hear about people with low literacy daunted by using the healthcare system. They may either underuse healthcare because they can't effectively communicate or they overuse it because they don't understand written instructions on prescriptions or healthcare discharge papers.

Furthermore, limited language acquisition perpetuates across generations: a mother's reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children's future academic success. It outweighs other factors, such as neighborhood and family income, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services3. Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed on.

The plight of those with poor English language skills stretches beyond individual families and has far-reaching effects for all of us, regardless of age, race, gender, or background. 

Literacy improves the economy.
Deficient language proficiency comes at a high price. According to the World Literacy Foundation, illiteracy costs the global economy $1.5 trillion annually4. Economies are strengthened when their residents have higher language acquisition levels. Improving adult English language skills would have enormous economic benefits in the United States. According to a 2020 study released by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and Gallup, if all adults had the equivalent of a sixth-grade reading level, this would generate an additional $2.2 trillion in annual income for the country5. Furthermore, this study found that the nation's largest metropolitan areas — including Chicago — would all stand to gain at or just above 10% of their GDP by bringing all adults to this reading level5. Our local economy needs a prepared, educated workforce to increase productivity, build businesses, and keep pace with the latest technology.

Literacy ameliorates healthcare systems.
Inadequate language is a significant source of economic inefficiency in the U.S. healthcare system. Low literacy is estimated to cost the U.S. economy between $106 billion to $238 billion annually, representing between 7% and 17% of all personal healthcare expenditures6. One study found that children in the U.S. whose mothers are not educated beyond high school have lower rotavirus vaccination rates (68%) compared to children of mothers with advanced degrees (84%)7. Another study found that female literacy rates can predict child mortality rates8. Increasing a population's English language acquisition results in significant savings and better health for the country. 

Literacy promotes peace and democracy.
According to the United States Department of Justice, 75% of state incarcerated individuals did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate9. And while this is disheartening, there is hope. Incarcerated individuals who participate in correctional education programs are 43% less likely to recidivate than inmates who do not10.

When citizens are literate, they have the necessary skills to be informed on the issues that matter to their towns. They are also more likely to vote and to find other ways of contributing in their local democracy. A literate society is a dynamic one. It is a community that exchanges ideas, engages in dialogue and is more innovative and productive. Furthermore, sharing ideas, perspectives, and concerns leads to greater mutual understanding and a stronger community spirit11.

Low literacy affects us all.
We are all impacted by low literacy, whether by paying higher taxes, experiencing increased local crime rates, encountering long wait times at healthcare providers, or decreased educational outcomes for school-aged children. Literacy has a "multiplier effect" by empowering people, enabling them to participate fully in society and to improve livelihoods. High English language acquisition is a driver for sustainable development in that it allows greater participation in the labor market, improves child and family health and nutrition, reduces poverty, and expands life opportunities. 

Supporting adult literacy providers is vital to our region's well-being. The services and instruction provided by Literacy DuPage enable individuals and enrich DuPage County. In recent Spark issues, we shared the life-changing stories of Sung and Kap, Soyoung, and Roy, who have made great personal strides learning English, are now more engaged: proud homeowners, a new citizen, and a budding entrepreneur.

There is no better time to join the fight to eliminate low literacy in DuPage County by making a tax-deductible gift to Literacy DuPage today! We use funds to achieve a long-lasting difference by supporting individuals while creating enduring change for a stronger local society.
Until next time,

Cassandra Shepherd and Your Friends at Literacy DuPage

Sources cited:
  1. DuPage County Community Services. "2020 Community Services Annual Report ... -" 2019 Community Needs Assessment Update, Impact DuPage, 2020,
  2. Why We're Here." Chicago Literacy Alliance, 2020,
  3. "ProLiteracy." Adult Literacy Facts Flyer, 2020,
  4. "6 Benefits of Literacy in the Fight against Poverty." Concern Worldwide, 25 Aug. 2021,
  5. "Low Adult Literacy Costs U.S. $2.2 Trillion a Year." Language Magazine, 9 Sept. 2020,
  6. Vernon, John A, et al. Low Health Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy. 4 Oct. 2007,
  7. Pindyck T, Tate JE, Parashar UD 2018. A decade of experience with rotavirus vaccination in the United States – vaccine uptake, effectiveness, and impact. Expert Review of Vaccines. 17(7)
  8. Saurabh, S., Sarkar, S., & Pandey, D. K. (2013). Female Literacy Rate is a Better Predictor of Birth Rate and Infant Mortality Rate in India.
  9. Harlow, Caroline W. "Education and Correctional Populations." Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 15 Apr. 2003,
  10. Davis, Lois M., et al. "Education and Vocational Training in Prisons Reduces Recidivism, Improves Job Outlook." RAND Corporation, 22 Aug. 2013,
  11. "The Importance of Literacy." Project Literacy Central Okanagan Society, 27 Sept. 2016,
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