L.A. Has Work to Do on Literacy
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In recent national speeches, President Obama has outlined a series of principles on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. While immigration remains a key issue in a global city like Los Angeles, the current local elections and its victors will steward our vibrant city in this highly competitive, complex and interconnected world.
Published on LatinoLA: February 27, 2013
To remain competitive, we – as elected officials, business executives and non-profit leaders – must focus our efforts to maintain and produce an educated and skilled workforce not only in the formal economy, but also in the informal economy. By the informal economy, I'm referring to unregulated and unreported economic activity.
According to a 2005 Economic Roundtable report, "Hopeful Workers, Marginal Jobs: L.A.'s Off-the-Books Labor Force," an estimated 16 percent of the city's workforce is employed in the informal economy. This represents $3.6 billion in annual payroll, if we assume an annualized wage of $12,000. At the Los Angeles County level, this annual payroll amount rises to $8 billion.
For many individuals who experience lack of upward mobility in the formal economy due to lack of human capital, English proficiency and basic literacy skills, the informal economy remains a viable option for them to pursue economic opportunities. While informal workers lack basic governmental regulations and protections in the workplace, they also fail to report income during tax season.
To help integrate these informal workers into the mainstream, we first need to address the high rate of nonliteracy among many of these individuals, particularly among Spanish-speaking adults. In the county, for instance, the U.S. census' 2011 American Community Survey finds that more than 220,000 adult Spanish speakers are functionally nonliterate in either Spanish or English. By increasing literacy among these individuals, we will increase the level of human capital and economic productivity in our local economy.
As a non-profit organization, Centro Latino for Literacy – or Centro Latino – provides basic literacy instruction among Latino immigrants in Los Angeles. Based in the Westlake-Pico Union community, Centro Latino creates innovative solutions that help transform the lives of nonliterate adults and their children through literacy. Because of our service to the community, the Los Angeles Business Journal recently named us as one of the 2013 Latino Business Award finalists in the non-profit category.
Being nonliterate in any language not only has negative impacts in the workplace due to lack of economic mobility, increased risks of job-related accidents and overall loss of productivity, it also has detrimental consequences for the workers and their families at home. For example, if a Spanish-speaking mother can't help her struggling third-grade son with his homework, how is this child going to perform at this critical grade in his primary education?
This lack of basic literacy and low-level human capital in such a household provides additional obstacles for children of low-income Latino immigrants to excel in public K-12 schools. Like most parents, non- to low-literacy parents want their children to succeed in school. Yet, they are at a disadvantage when compared with parents with higher literacy rates and college degrees who posses the necessary human capital to help their children with homework and pursue higher education.
Centro Latino starts from the basics with instruction for nonliterate adult students, since those enrolled in our many programs lack basic literacy skills in their own language, be it Spanish or an array of indigenous languages from their sending communities. We provide basic reading and writing skills through Leamos, an online interactive literacy course. Using Leamos, students learn at their own pace. Given their high level of commitment, most students learn to read and write at a basic level in about 125 to 150 hours or two to five months.
Our online course teaches nonliterate Spanish-speaking adults to take the first crucial steps in their pathway toward literacy and economic mobility. Learning on the Web also helps them overcome their fear of technology that most American adults and youth take for granted. They also improve their self-confidence, job performance and access to the unlimited information and services found online. Moreover, this Web-based platform unlocks these individuals' curiosity to access materials and services any place with Internet access, such as a public library.
By increasing the level of literacy among Latino immigrants, Los Angeles will benefit because adult literacy helps break the cycle of poverty among low-wage workers. For example, an October 2010 National Institute of Health study found that a mother's reading skill represents the greatest determinant of a child's future academic success over other factors such as family income and place of residence.
In short, we hope that all Angelenos join us in our efforts to help raise the level of literacy among Spanish-speaking adults and raise their standard of living. The city of Los Angeles can't afford not to invest in all its residents and, together, we can make transformative changes in the lives of countless individuals and their families to improve our global city.
(Reprinted with permission of the Los Angeles Business Journal.)
Call for Action: You too can help transform lives through literacy for Latino adults and their families by contributing to Centro Latino for Literacy at: https://www.justgive.org/giving/donate.jsp?charityId=9409&
President and CEO of Centro Latino for Literacy
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