Literacy in today's world means the ability to read, write, do math, and use technology, applying that knowledge to real-life situations, at a level that enables an individual to fully function as a parent, employee, and community member.
According to ProLiteracy, a national and international adult literacy organization, in 2008:
- There were 774 million people in the world who were illiterate in their native language.
- Two-thirds of the illiterate were women.
- In the U.S., 30 million people over the age of 16, 14% of the adult population, read no better than the average elementary school child and are unable to read a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level or fill out a job application.
- Adult low literacy can be connected to most socio-economic issues in the U.S.:
- More than 60% of state and federal prison inmates can barely read and write.
- Low health literacy costs between $106 and $238 billion each year, 7 - 17% of all annual personal health care spending.
- Low literacy's effects cost the U.S. over $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.
In Frederick County, according to the 2009 American Community Survey estimates:
- There were 13,140 adults over the age of 25, 9% of the adult population, with less than a high school education.
- Of adults aged 18 - 24, another 2,144, or 11% of that age group, lacked a high school diploma.
- Of the 18,387 foreign-born population over age 5, 6252, or 34%, spoke English less than "very well."
Literacy is the basis for all other education. Adults with strong literacy skills raise children well prepared to learn when they enter school, thus helping to break the cycle of poverty and other socio-economic problems.