NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Dangers Of Illiterate Workers

January 13, 1999

Employers are at best hesitant to hire workers who can neither read nor write -- and with good reason. Not only does their illiteracy hamper their ability to perform their tasks, they pose a danger to themselves and their fellow employees, labor experts point out.

An employee who can't understand written directions or add up a row of figures is a potential liability.

  • The First International Adult Literacy Survey revealed that 23.7 percent of American adults are at the lowest level of literacy ever -- lower than the level required to properly fill out a job application or write out a receipt.
  • It also found that some 20 percent to 25 percent of American workers in manufacturing, mining, construction and hospitality can't perform those tasks.
  • Seventy percent of those at the lowest level of literacy are either in the lowest 20 percent of the income distribution scale, or they have no income at all.
  • More than 44 percent of Americans at the lowest literacy level earn no income.

These realities are more or less ignored by advocates of minimum wage laws, observers note. In fact, they say, illiterate workers suffer most from forced wage hikes. The mandated increases force illiterate workers right out of the job market.

Source: Thomas K. Dilworth (Employment Policies Institute), Investor's Business Daily, January 13, 1999.


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