24 Percent Of Payson Residents Struggle With Literacy


As an adult, Matthew Floyd had always wanted to read more than comic books, but his reading skills prevented him from doing picking up a regular book.

The Rim Country Literacy Program is improving his reading skills.

"I wanted to get more comfortable in my reading abilities," he said. "I am surprised at how much I have improved."

Floyd, a Payson High School graduate, said his mom heard about the program and thought her son should take advantage of it.

"I would like to go back to school, and with improved reading skills I could succeed in school," Floyd said. If his reading skills improve enough, he would like to become a video-game designer.

Until then, Floyd said, not being able to read well does not hamper him at his job where he stocks groceries at night at Bashas'.

Floyd is one of many residents who were and are struggling with literacy.

Fillings out a job application form or insurance documents are things some Payson area residents are not able to do.

According to literacy statistics, 24 percent of Payson's population is illiterate in some form.

Some have trouble reading, others have difficulty writing and there are individuals who cannot do math. There also are some who cannot do any of the three.

Gila County has a Level I literacy rate, meaning individuals can sign their name, locate a piece of information in sports pages, locate expiration on driver's licenses and make out a bank deposit slip.

What a Level I literacy individual cannot do, in most cases, is locate his or her eligibility from a table of employee benefits, locate two pieces of news information in a paper, identify and put correct information on a social security card application and correctly total costs of purchases on an order form.

Functional illiteracy is defined as the inability to use reading, speaking or writing skills in everyday life.

Su Connell, director of the Rim Country Literacy Program, said adults often do not want to admit they cannot read or write.

She said the 24 percent illiteracy rate in Payson shows an issue that needs to be addressed.

"If 24 percent of our population has some form of illiteracy, that is huge," she said.

Connell said these people often will go on welfare or some other form of public assistance, because they lack the skills to hold a better paying job.

In 2002, a high school dropout earned an average of $19,000 a year, while a high school graduate made about $27,000 a year.

She said seven out of every 10 inmates are illiterate and said those who take advantage of education while in prison are less likely to return once released.

In the past three year, the Rim Country Literacy Center has worked with about 700 students in four programs it offers -- adult basic education, English language learning, general educational development and family reading.

Barbara Ganz, executive director of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, said illiteracy affects all employment in the Payson area.

"One of the most difficult things people have to address is the work force," she said. "We have employers in need of employees, and, on the other hand, we have a high number of potential employees who cannot really function at a job."

Ganz added that she does not think there are many jobs in Payson that do not require one of the three basic skills -- reading, writing and math.

"We want service providers. We want people in customer service and we want people in technical jobs," she said. "That statistic (of 24 percent illiteracy rate) has a very strong impact on the work force in Payson."

The Rim Country Literacy Program can be reached at (928)468-7257.

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