In Oakland, one in four English speaking adults, about 80,000 people, cannot write clearly or fully understand what they read, according to statistics released by the Oakland Library’s Second Start Adult Literacy Program.


Children whose parents function at low literacy levels are twice as likely as their peers to have trouble with their own reading and writing.


This means that about a quarter of Oakland’s adult residents are unable to do daily necessities, like read the newspaper or fill out a job application. According the Second Start Project at Oakland libraries, illiteracy is more common in the unemployed.

Denise Greer, Executive-Director of Oakland Parents Literacy Project, sees people from many walks of life come to her program. “Many people quietly suffer through their reading and writing challenges. Often they’re unable to help their children with homework or perform the everyday functions they need to support their family, like make business flyers or read classifieds in the paper,” she said.

Today securing family healthcare, transportation, shelter, and finances all require basic literacy skills, and jobs that require computer skills are becoming more common. So programs like Second Start Adult Literacy and the Oakland Parents Literacy Project are cropping up to address these adults’ literacy needs.

Greer’s program hosts weekly reading nights at schools in low-income neighborhoods where they give out free books and dinner, spending the evening giving parents advice and practice on reading with their children. The library’s Second Start program pairs adults up with tutors who meet with them once each week to tackle reading and writing and job-related literacy skills.

But do unemployed people have the time to attend these sessions? Are the responses from non-profit programs like these enough to make a difference in the Oakland community? How else should this problem be addressed?