“More than half of the working-age people in Los Angeles have trouble reading and writing, according to a report by the United Way charity. Local leaders say the problem threatens the city’s economy.” – Voice of America, via LISNews.

The TeleRead take: The many new immigrants in LA, some illiterate even in their native languages, add to the challenge. Details from VOA’s Mike Sullivan:

Joe Haggerty, who heads the Los Angeles branch of the United Way, says a combination of factors make the problem worse in Los Angeles than in other U.S. cities. The survey shows that 53 percent of working-age people in Los Angeles have poor literacy skills, and he says part of the reason is poverty. “We have over two million people living below the federal poverty level here in Los Angeles County, so it is 20 percent of the county…

Some two million residents are unable to read a map, which puts them at the lowest end of the literacy scale. Another 1.5 million are unable to write a letter to complain to their local utility about a billing error…

Local corporations, like the telecommunications firm Verizon, are contributing money to the literacy effort partly because they want to improve the skills of the local workforce. Verizon executive Timothy McCallion says his company’s telephone operators, equipment installers, and clerks all keep track of their work on computers.

The results of low literacy can cause problems in other areas, from drivers who cannot read traffic signs to medical patients unable to read the instructions on medicines.

Programs to improve reading skills for adults are offered in public schools, community colleges and libraries. Non-profit institutions and religious organizations are also helping. But Terri Clark of the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles says there is little coordination, and few efforts to identify which programs are effective. National figures show that half of the adults who enroll in literacy classes quickly drop out.

Mightn’t one reason for the dropout rate be that many waitresses and laborers are just too bone-tired at the end of the day? Or that mothers must struggle finding babysitters? And isn’t it possible that a TeleRead-style approach, working together with in-person resources, could reduce the need for literacy students to visit literacy centers? The idea should not be to toss out existing resources, but rather to work closely with them. Digital librarians could team up wih the Literacy Network and LA public library to help social agencies and employers coordinate resources and also could establish portals through which workers could select the best services and materials for their needs. Another advantage of the TeleRead approach would be the encouragement of recreational reading and general self-improvement reading, both of which can strengthen reading skills used directly on the job.

A memo to whoever keeps accessing us from a certain Fortune 500 corporation in the midwest: The above certainly applies to some extent to your city and your potential workforce as well. Want to talk and get some localized ideas? Email us.


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