Literacy rates impact business opportunities

Tens of thousands of people in our community are not functionally literate. That's why there is a renewed push to get everyone reading. It's not just a matter of civic pride, it's a matter of civic prosperity.

Illiteracy is a problem that hits home for more than 100,000 people in our area. "At the most basic level of Reading and Writing, if you are functionally illiterate the only jobs you're going to qualify for are the very lowest skilled jobs," according to University of Memphis Economics Professor Dr. Julie Heath.

Heath says companies consider literacy rates when they consider moving to any city. Those rates affect the number and quality of jobs. "If I look at a community and I see this many functionally illiterate people that are going to occupy this low skilled strata of jobs, then I don't have a lot of incentive as a business owner to bring my business to this community."

That way of thinking impacts our entire community. Memphis City Councilman Jack Sammons touched on the problem during a retreat last month. "They're all interrelated. We can't create jobs if we can't provide an educated workforce, we can't get companies to invest in our community unless we have a safe community."

Dr. Heath says schools, businesses and other civic agencies have to work together to break the cycle. "It requires a lot of people coming to the table and recognizing that that's the only way out of the situation."

Research shows literacy really does make a difference on the job front. According to the Memphis Literacy Council's website, adults who take part in a literacy program are able to get a job, or a better paying job and become more productive employees. The council offers literacy programs for adults. Contact them at 327-6000.