I am writing to you from the office of our organization, the San Diego Council on Literacy, here in Mission Valley.

In this valley, and beyond, we have a number of our partners, people I like to call “Social Warriors,” who are serious about finding solutions to the main challenges our community faces.

I cannot say that San Diego County is much different from other communities as relates to the roots of social challenges.

The problems we face, really, seem to have the same sources. We would make all the difference in the world to families, communities, and businesses by making sure that everyone had certain basic needs met.

In short, when we look at those who are living at or below the poverty level, who are incarcerated, who are under-educated and raising children who do not succeed in school, who are unemployed or under-employed, we find: low-self-esteem, low level literacy skills, poor parenting, and cycles … cycles of dependency and cycles of illiteracy.

Through literacy, we do not offer a cure-all. We offer skills that equip adults to acquire knowledge and succeed in the roles they play as parent, community member, and worker.

In San Diego County, 440,000 adults are below basic in reading, math, and functioning with documents that we are often required to use in daily living.

That’s about 20 percent of the adult population in our community. And our figures are only a little bit higher than those of the rest of the country.

In California as a state, almost one in four adults is at the Below Basic level in literacy. This means that the reading, writing, and math skill level of these adults is at approximately the fifth-grade level or below.

The average newspaper is written at about an eigth-grade level.

And the average job requires two years of education beyond high school — at least!

And, unfortunately, the biggest surprise still is that most of those adults who need help with reading and writing in this country are native English speakers,

Also, if you, the reader, are waiting to see someone sign his or her name with an “X” before you believe what you’re reading, well, you’re going to miss it. Not that we don’t see people signing with an X these days. We do.

The fact is, most of the 440,000 adults who ask for help are reading at about a 3rd grade level, which is enough to fool the average person who does not suspect illiteracy.

The irony is, most of those who ask for help are limited speakers of English. They feel more comfortable asking for help because of the need to meet basic survival needs. Their challenge is obvious. But, to a person who is English-speaking, there is much stigma attached to asking for reading help. Many individuals feel very alone. When, the truth is, a lot of people need help.


One reason is because literacy demands continue to rise in this country and in the world. Seventy years ago, you were considered literate if you could do one thing. What do you think that was?

I will tell you in my next post. I will talk more about what you can do to help. We need literacy volunteers!

Also, here are another series of facts:

  • English is not the first language of 18 percent of individuals over the age of five in the U.S.
  • English is not the first language of 40 percent of individuals over the age of five in California.
  • English is not the first language of 33 percent of San Diego County residents over the age of five.

We need to invest … in everyone.


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