Low literacy is costly to individuals, employers and society. It means higher hurdles and lower wealth for this generation and generations to come. A highly literate population, on the other hand, contributes to economic growth and regional prosperity.

Literacy is “an individual’s ability to read, write, speak, in English [and] compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society.” The return on investment for literacy comes in the form of earnings growth and reductions in public costs.

Low literacy levels among Cook Country’s 939,074 adults who have, at best, a high school diploma translate into greater costs for society and government across a range of areas.

Estimated Annual Public Costs Associated with Low Literacy in Cook County

Corrections: $146,836,600
Estimate based on:
Taxpayer costs due to recidivism among the 23,300 individuals who return from prison to Cook County each year. Improved literacy has been shown to be directly correlated to lower rates of recidivism.

Health Care: $3,085,714,286
Estimate based on:
Individuals with low literacy have healthcare costs four times higher than those with proficient literacy skills.

Public Benefits: $5,017,631,771
Estimate based on:
Public benefit costs for individuals with only a high school diploma or no diploma are 14% and 45% higher, respectively, than for individuals with some post-secondary education.

Workers with more education experience lower levels of unemployment than workers with lower levels of education and skill. Adult skill level is directly correlated to an individual’s ability to move out of poverty.