If those who cannot read face a hostile world, the costs are equally great for society at large. Economies run on knowledge. Countries compete in a world defined by information. Consider the following:

Consequences of illiteracy, such as poor school performance, low high school and college attendance and graduation rates, ensure that low-paying employment continues the cycle of unrealized personal and economical success, disempowering individuals and their families. Laura Bush and Irina Bokova underscore the interconnectedness of these issues in a recent article. They point out that those who cannot read are vulnernable to ill health, are more subject to exploitation, get paid less, and are otherwise positioned to fall far short of their potential. Only successful efforts to reduce illiteracy will promote true equality.

Compelling statistics underscore the critical link between illiteracy and incarceration:

  • Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America‚Äôs inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level.
  • Eighty-five percent of all juveniles who come into contact with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. So are over 60 percent of all prison inmates.
  • Inmates have a 16 percent chance of returning to prison if they obtain literacy training, as opposed to 70 percent for those who receive no help. According to the study, the cost of incarceration for taxpayers equals $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.

It does not end there. Here is still more evidence of the horrific consequences of illiteracy: