Twenty-nine million American adults one in every six - cannot read even a newspaper headline.
Another 35-million read below the level considered necessary to function successfully in our increasingly sophisticated, technological society.In Utah, more than 200,000 adults lack a high school diploma, most of them because they don't read very well.
We mention this because illiteracy exerts such a heavy drain on the economy in the form of lost opportunities and needlessly high welfare rolls. And because Congress needs to make sure that a promising new program for reducing illiteracy does not get lost in the fight over the vetoed trade bill.
Among the many provisions of that long, complicated bill is one that would set up a national Literacy Corps, which would enlist college students in semester-long stints as tutors for students with reading problems.
If the Senate sustains the veto of the trade bill as expected, Congress should find another way to set up and fund the Literacy Corps.
But even if it is created, such a corps is still no substitute for getting parents more deeply involved in making sure their children learn how to read. A recent Roper poll found that even though parents across the educational and economic spectrum place a high value on reading, less than half say their children read for pleasure every day.
With the ranks of the illiterate growing by 2.3 million American adults every year, the U.S. needs to apply new impetus to efforts to combat illiteracy. A person who can't read can't fill out an employment application. No wonder one study found that 42 percent of the illiterate earned no money in the year before they were tested.
As long as America remains saddled with so much illiteracy, there are sharp limits to how well its citizens can function in an increasingly technological society and how much they can contribute to its progress.