DETROIT, Oct. 3, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A new coalition of business, civic, educational, philanthropic and media partners began an unprecedented campaign today to improve reading skills among adults in metropolitan Detroit, where estimates peg the rate of functional illiteracy at a third to almost half the adult population in some communities.
The campaign, called Reading Works, readingworksdetroit.org, is raising money and seeking volunteers to support nine agencies in the region that provide instruction for adults who want to learn to read, or to read better. The effort is seen as key to improving the work force in the Detroit area to attract employers and fill available jobs that require reading skills.
After a decade-long recession and the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs, the area's unemployment rate is around 13 percent.
"We recognize a sad truth," said Susie Schechter, Reading Works executive director. "Metro Detroit has far too many functionally illiterate adults, often below a fifth-grade level, unable to complete a job application or read to their children.
"It's time to do something different, face up to functional illiteracy in adults, support the agencies' earnest efforts, and address the problem realistically."
The Reading Works campaign was launched with a special section in Sunday editions of the Detroit Free Press, one of the partner organizations. Other members of the Reading Works Alliance include Wayne State University, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Michigan Chronicle, WXYZ-TV and Comerica Bank.
In an interview with Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, who has written about the region's adult literacy problem for a decade and is an honorary co-chair of Reading Works, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing acknowledged the drawback of the city's literacy rate.
"We're starting to see in Detroit more and more businesses that are here that are thinking about expanding, and more and more businesses that are thinking about coming here," the mayor said. "But the real pushback has been - do we have the education level where it needs to be? ... The education that we have here for our work force becomes a determination as to whether people are going to invest."
The goal of Reading Works is "80 by '20, which is 80 percent of adults in Metro Detroit functionally literate at a minimum 9th grade level by 2020.
"The challenge of adult illiteracy is not unique to Detroit - it is a state, national, international problem," said Schechter. "But we will make Detroit the recognized leader in solving the problem."
SOURCE Reading Works