Illiteracy is a global epidemic. It doesn’t discriminate, affecting people of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Collateral damage

Nearly 800 million people in the world cannot read or write—and 126 million of them are children. In the U.S., more than 32 million people are illiterate: 14 percent of the nation’s population.

Literacy is about more than reading and writing—it’s about fully participating in society. Research shows that people who are literate are more likely to escape the bonds of poverty. They live longer. They’re more likely to seek medical help. They are more active in their communities and more inclined to vote.

In the U.S., illiteracy has an annual price tag of $300.8 billion due to higher crime rates, the need for public assistance and other factors. The estimated cost of illiteracy to the global economy is $1.19 trillion. The only way to staunch this financial bleed is through collective intervention and action.

Breaking cycles

No matter how daunting it may seem, illiteracy is a solvable issue. The challenge of eliminating it remains enormous and stubborn. Yet history and experience have taught us that we can make significant progress by working together.

"Leaders in the U.S. and around the globe must exercise the courage and stamina to advocate for sustainable progress in literacy."

We’ve seen what is possible in the Philippines, a country that, in a single decade, increased its literacy rate to 97.5 percent, due to the collective efforts of leaders in the public and private sectors. Their actions have changed the lives of the Filipino people—and the future of their nation—forever.

Here in the U.S., we must be willing to collaborate with partners of all kinds. We must work together to constructively and critically examine what’s working, what’s not working and how we can create real, lasting change in our schools, our communities and our nation.

Long-term vision

Our future will be determined by how well we can equip children and adults to live productively in a society where literacy—in every household and community, across all sectors, mediums and channels—is given the importance it deserves. The higher the premium we place on being literate, the more we will be able to achieve.

Leaders in the U.S. and around the globe must exercise the courage and stamina to advocate for sustainable progress in literacy. To push beyond current barriers. To act with commitment, with boldness and with urgency.

There’s no question that increasing literacy rates is essential to ensuring the productivity of individuals and whole societies. We must expand the circle of those who can help advance literacy for all: lead the charge in making literacy a fundamental, inalienable human right, worldwide.  We cannot stop until that goal is achieved.