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One in Five Adult North Carolinians Struggles to Read

Photo: Marquez who is taking tutoring classes at Reading Connections in Guilford County. Courtesy: Reading Connections
Photo: Marquez who is taking tutoring classes at Reading Connections in Guilford County. Courtesy: Reading Connections
September 24, 2013

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Being able to read a menu or fill out a job application are skills many of us take for granted, but it's a seemingly insurmountable task for thousands of North Carolinians who struggle with reading. September is National Literacy Month, and organizations such as Reading Connections in Guilford County work with adults to overcome their inability to read. According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in five people in the nation reads below a fifth-grade level.

Jennifer Gore, the executive director of Reading Connections, warned that the problem isn't going away.

"It's not an issue that has waned over time, and there's many, many, many reasons for that," she said. "We serve thousands and thousands of people, and we still see an incredible need."

Gore said that as many as 80 percent of adults who aren't proficient in reading have learning disabilities, adding that the immigrant population also includes people who cannot read English.

Alejandra Marquez immigrated to Guilford County four years ago from Venezuela. In her home country she was studying to become certified as a project manager and now attends tutoring at Reading Connections so she can pass the test.

"It's so difficult because you have to learn all of that in English again, and I already had studied in Spanish for that."

Jennifer Gore said that the current job market and the decline in basic manufacturing jobs make it difficult for people lacking reading skills to find work.

"Adults that we serve are the last hired and often the first fired, and we've also seen tremendous shifts in available jobs for people," she said.

Groups such as Reading Connections and others emphasize the importance of early-childhood education in preventing the continuation of adult illiteracy. Gore added that programs such as Head Start also offer assistance to parents struggling with their own reading skills, but many of these services are seeing cuts to their budgets.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC