Commentary: Low literacy a crisis in Sussex County

Literacy Delaware is an organization that can help
February 5, 2019

Approximately 68,000 adult Delawareans function at the lowest literacy level.  That is a stunning statistic considering Delaware has a population of only 925,000.  Many of these people reside in Sussex County.  They are able to read at most, a child’s simple picture book (i.e. “Hop on Pop”).  Adults who are illiterate or who possess low literacy skills cannot complete a job application, or take a written driver’s exam. 

They cannot read a bus schedule, or street signs, or understand written instructions provided by a medical professional in a doctor’s office or emergency room or even on a medicine label.  They cannot help their children with homework.  A computer keyboard is daunting and intimidating to those who cannot understand it.  Surrounding all of these disadvantages are the low self-esteem and embarrassment that accompany not being able to read.  

Low literacy costs our state millions in tax revenue.  Adults with low literacy skills have twice the unemployment rate as their literate peers.  Not working means no tax revenue, no spending, and reliance on social services. Our country’s economy loses $225 billion yearly due to limited literacy.   

Poor literacy skills are closely linked to poverty and health issues.  Research shows 43 percent of persons living at or below the level of poverty have low literacy skills or are lower skilled in English proficiency.  Preventive health behaviors are poor.  Adults with low literacy skills have healthcare costs three times more than you or I.  Our country spends an extra $238 billion in extra healthcare costs due to limited literacy. 

Children of low-literate parents face a high risk of growing up with literacy needs themselves.  A mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her child’s success in school.  Helping an adult learn to read can improve the situation of the entire family.  Most adult learners seek help so they can participate in their children’s learning, work toward obtaining a secondary credential (General Education Development High School Diploma) and/or improve their job skills to get a better-paying job to better support their families.   

Literacy Delaware Inc. is a not-for-profit 501c3 organization that assists adults to significantly improve their literacy skills, free of charge.  We rely totally on the generosity of businesses, civic organizations and individuals to provide our services.  Founded in New Castle County in 1982, Literacy Delaware has been operating in Sussex County since 2015, and is seeking to expand its presence in response to the growing need in many of our communities. “Literacy” is no longer just reading and writing.  We define literacy as the ability one has to speak, read, write, compute and use technology to express and understand ideas and opinions, make decisions and solve problems.

Literacy enables us to achieve our goals and participate fully in our communities. The demands of the workplace, family, and society change the level of essential literacy skills we need. Our organization continues to develop new programs and curricula to address a range of literacy needs.  In short, Literacy Delaware works to give adults, their children and their families hope.

Literacy Delaware provides ongoing training, support and guidance to our tutors through in-service workshops and assistance from staff.  Other volunteers assist in the office, at special events and on the board of directors.  We are always looking for people interested in helping our organization grow in Sussex County in a variety of ways. 

Some of our learners are foreign born and speak limited English.  Some are native born and may not have completed school.  Others are refugees from other parts of the world fleeing dangerous situations.  Literacy Delaware is always looking for adults who desire to improve their lives and the lives of their families. 

If you would like to know more about Literacy Delaware, if you would like to become a volunteer, a donor or or if you know someone who would benefit from our program, please contact Glenn Schuster at

Glenn Schuster is director of outreach for Literacy Delaware.


  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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