The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy: A Snapshot of Illiteracy in a Global Context

The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy: A Snapshot of Illiteracy in a Global Context

Illiteracy, the inability to read or write, costs the global economy an estimated $1.19 trillion annually, a new report from the World Literacy Foundation finds. The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy: A Snapshot of Illiteracy in a Global Context (18 pages, PDF) examined the impact of illiteracy in developing, emerging, and developed countries and found, in all three categories, clear-cut links to poverty, unemployment, long-term illness, dependence on welfare or charity, social exclusion, and crime. The report calculates the cost of illiteracy due to lost earnings and business productivity, missed wealth-creation opportunities, and inadequate high-tech skills capacity at 2 percent of GDP for developed countries, 1.2 percent for emerging economies, and 0.5 percent for developing countries — and puts the opportunity cost associated with illiteracy at $250 million for Iceland, $1.4 billion for Bangladesh, and $300 billion for the United States. To reduce and eventually eliminate those costs, the report's authors recommend establishing adult and parental literacy programs; improving school attendance and retention strategies; securing resources, training, and technology for literacy efforts; and strengthening national governments' commitment to literacy initiatives.