More than 1 in 5 Philadelphians are illiterate

Pennsylvania rates about average with the US in terms of overall basic reading proficiency with a shockingly high about 13% of adults are unable to read and understand basic prose such as newspaper stories. Philadelphia's rate is a little less than twice that at 22%, between 1 in 5 and 1 in 4.

Check out the new report on basic literacy nationwide here.

This according to a new study by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy which has a great feature on its website where you can compare literacy rates between counties in states, between states, between counties nationwide.

I used it to find out that while more than 1 in 5 Philadelphians are functionally illiterate that number sinks to less than 1 in 12 when you cross City Line Avenue into Montgomery County.

All the more reason to ask if cutting libraries and CCP funding is really a smart use of resources if we really want to make Philadelphia a business and jobs magnet, as I see it.

I heard this too

And 1 out of 3 Philadelphians lives in poverty. Connection?

This also speaks to why the "progressive" community has to expand its scope. How can we ever expect to vote out corruption and greed in city and state government if some of those most affected and most in need of economically-just progressive change probably can't even read well enough to push the right buttons on Election Day?

Obviously there is a connection

I think where the discussion sometimes goes awry is whether the problem boils down strictly to poverty or the chronic and recurring lack of tools to escape poverty, and also whether Philly can fix the problem itself or how dependent it has to be on state and federal funding.

I'm a firm believer in "tools" myself particularly education so that the ill effects of poverty does not become generational and recurring, a life sentence based on the neighborhood you are born in. Many fear that if the city tries to do all the heavy lifting itself, it goes broke and turns itself into a convenient "dumping ground" for semi-intentional economic red-lining. The Feds have to help share the burden.

But, that said, a smart plan for making Philadelphia a healthy, economically vibrant, safe city has to prioritize education and literacy as much as possible if its ever going to compete with its neighbors. For me its not rhetorical. I honestly believe for Philly to grow as an economy it has to guard its institutions that protect and promote education and literacy jealously. Its why I'm so nuts about these library cuts.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

My comment was not meant to spark disagreement

Sean, I didn't mean to imply that you did not get that connection. As such I am not sure why you feel the need to state that the discussion on poverty has gone awry.

Like of course a moral attitude or solely intellectually one is not going to undo poverty. Of course we need tools. Like a well-funded CCP, more vocational education, more and better pre-K programs and universal aftercare, better literacy curriculum in schools, more reading to kids outside of school (with parents preferably but also at libraries). Etc. And of course the city can not do this alone, but this is sort of a false binary since the administration seems to be paying little more than lip service to any real poverty-reduction strategy. And the last of course, of course this is not rhetoric. It really needs to happen.

Preach it brother

I do think we are in agreement. Its just for some people when you say "poverty" by itself without qualifying it they think you are just saying to fix being poor you just give people money, rather than investing in the institutions that empower people to work their way out of poverty and some people, for reasonable reasons and for stupid, bigoted ones as well, get put off by that.

I think the extremity of these illiteracy numbers is so shocking that even folks who label themselves "fiscal conservatives" can see how illiteracy in Philadelphia is a tangible and substantive barrier to economic growth. Or at least the honest ones that are paying attention do.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

literacy crisis in philly, actually

I linked to sean's map the other day and added some thoughts of my own regarding the literacy problem and libraries in pHilly.

We are facing a real crisis: the philly youth network reports we lose 8200 kids to HS dropout each year, which is predictable and preventable: 8th graders flunking english and math are the most likely to drop out, with the highest rates for black and latino students.

the link between HS dropout and adult poverty is indisputable.

From the PYN article (linked at my blog):

Numerous studies demonstrate that increasing graduation rates will produce major positive impacts in many areas of our social and economic lives.
? A national study by economist Cecilia Rouse at Princeton University shows that over a lifetime, an 18-year-old who graduates earns $260,000 more than a person without a high school diploma, and contributes $60,000 more in federal and state income taxes.
? If all Americans who receive public assistance and are dropouts had instead earned a high school diploma, the savings in federal welfare spending would range from $7.9 to $10.8 billion each
year, according to an analysis by Jane Waldfogel at the Columbia University School of Social Work. This helps to underscore the importance of both education and work on the road to self-sufficiency.
? A study by Enrico Moretti at the University of California at Berkeley found that a one percent increase nationally in high school completion rates of men 20- to 60-years-old would have saved the United States as much as $1.4 billion annually in reduced costs from crime….

Based on projections from research, over their lifetimes those 8,200+ dropouts [in philadelphia alone, ed.] represent a loss of more than two billion dollars in income that could have purchased goods and services and fueled our regional economy, and costs to society of another 500 million dollars in lost tax revenues that could have helped to support essential services and to improve the quality of life for our citizens. Not to mention the social and emotional toll it takes on communities, parents, and the youth themselves.

so there's a massive economic impact as well. and these cuts to libraries will do nothing the help the city: in fact, it makes the city LESS desirable to businesses because of the poverty and the low education of the workforce (never mind the next generation of workers).

The mayor is approaching the issue in the wrong way, treating philly as if it's a place for people to come for work and entertainment, while neglecting the people who actually live here and raise families.

It's a good point though, Ray

that at horrible literacy rates like this that the institution of democracy itself is threatened when so large a chunk of our electorate could not even read a newspaper article and understand it enough to make an informed choice in the election booth. Its small wonder our politics are broken.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Are there any...

....non-profit groups in the Phila area purposed with addressing and improving this?

- All politics is local.

I'm guessing a little sarcasm

and a reference to a group that rhymes with Friends of the Tree Byberry.

But another really good group is the Center for Literacy.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

I got one for you Intern.

A BIG non-profit. Click here.

Philadelphia Reads

I've volunteered for them in the past, + would like to do so in the future.


non-profits doing adult literacy programs

The United Way of SEPA gives general operating support to the following non-profits in the region for their work in delivering high quality adult literacy programs:

ACLAMO Family Centers
Center for Literacy
Community Women’s Education Project
Delaware County Literacy Council
District 119C Training and Upgrading Fund
Indochinese American Council
Lutheran Settlement House
Nationalities Service Center
Opportunities Industrialized Center
PA School for the Deaf

Kudos to Mr. Luigi

for being perceptible :-)

- All politics is local.


I sit in Olney Library three days a week helping kids polish their reading skills. The School District pays the company I work for $50/hr for the kids to get some help. But no matter how hard I work at motivating them and re-establishing the basics, my work is negated by parents who would rather give their kids a PSP for Christmas, rather than make them do the homework I assign them. All the money in the world isn't going to fix these problems. Which isn't to say we should keep resources for those who use them anyway.


All the money in the world isn't going to fix these problems. Which isn't to say we should keep resources for those who use them anyway.

Which is why - even in poor or more modest areas where circulation is relatively low, if it is increasing rapidly and a significant percentage of poor folks are using the library system to fortify a failing public education system and swimming against the social tide, we have something of an obligation to provide that opportunity for those who desperately want to take it and have the focus to do so. You can't make people learn but its stupid to take away the tools for learning from those who want it, especially when things like keeping branch libraries is comparitively so cheap to maintain.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

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