Along with most of the country, Utah's adult literacy rates haven't changed much over the years, but the Beehive State still has one of the highest percentages of competent readers in the nation.
According to the latest interpretation of data collected in 2003, more than 92 percent of people 16 and older in Utah can read a newspaper. That number is slightly higher than a National Center for Education Statistics study showed in 1992.
"These are our estimates on the percentage of adults who are able to easily identify information in a paragraph, and who have an ability to comprehend reading material arranged in sentence structure," Sheida White, an NCES statistician said during a conference call from Washington, D.C.
The 9 percent illiteracy rate in Utah is better than the national average, which is 14.7 percent of the population lacking in literacy skills, according to the report released Thursday. New data, including state and county snapshots, were released with the most recent report, although the same numbers have been pored over for years.
Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Dakota carry the highest rates, all with 93 percent literacy. Meantime, 20 percent of the population in New York and California lacks basic reading skills.
Nationally, illiteracy rates range from 6 percent to 23 percent, according to the report.
Adult levels are not applied to basic grade levels due to the fact that "grown-ups come from all walks of life," White said. The object, she said, is to identify populations in need of training so policymakers and state officials can confront the issues.
Davis, Morgan and Summit counties are among the most literate in the state, boasting a less than 7 percent of people below basic reading levels. Beaver, Duchesne and San Juan counties were found to have 12 percent of the population lacking in basic prose skills.
The State Office of Education has 56 literacy programs in the state, some of them based within school districts and others run by community-based organizations. Adult literacy specialist Sandra Grant said the largest population in Utah needing assistance is between ages 25 and 40, and spans the state.
"But there are people in their 90s coming back for high school diplomas as well," she said. Literacy is required for most jobs, specifically technical positions, and Grant said those jobs are "getting more and more complicated all the time."
"We try to reach as many people as we can, but we can't bring them in kicking and screaming," Grant said. "They have to want to be there."
Demographics, such as immigration rates, poverty levels, the number of high school diplomas and ethnicity were obtained from 2000 Census data and included as variables in the report to apply estimates to all regions and areas.In all, 264 counties in the nation were surveyed, and estimates were made based on a sample of more than 24,000 people. The sample, White said, represents the 220 million Americans older than age 16. The next assessment is scheduled to be conducted in 2016.
E-mail: [email protected]