Social, Economic Impact of Illiteracy

The House recently passed Senate-endorsed legislation creating a nine-member gambling commission to study the social and economic impact of gambling (July 23). It made me wonder. An estimated loss of $237 billion per year in unrealized earnings is forfeited by those who lack basic learning skills. How many of those gambling might be illiterates trying to find a “means of income”?

Functionally illiterate adults cost $224 billion annually in welfare payments, crime, job incompetence, lost taxes and remedial education. Since 1965, the American taxpayer has paid over $300 billion for special education and Chapter 1 programs. America has dropped from almost 100% literacy in the 1930s and ‘40s to about 50% literacy today.

Are the social heartache and economic impact of gambling as big a problem as the seminal problem of being unable to read? Are they intertwined in some way? Has there been or will there be a commission to study illiteracy’s social and economic impact--as it relates to gambling and other social ills?



Director, California Division

National Right to Read Foundation