More than half of Cuyahoga County’s adults can’t read at the highest proficiency level.

That’s according to the Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland, a group that bills itself as an “umbrella organization” working to bring the community together on efforts related to literacy. 

Literacy rates are a big deal. Aside from boosting educational and job-attainment rates, not being able to read at a proficient level can impact lots of things in life, including people’s health.  Low literacy rates cost both businesses and taxpayers nationwide $20 billion annually in lost wages, profits and productivity, according to the group. 

The rate – 54 percent, to be exact –  was referenced during the group’s announcement of its latest annual literacy dashboard, which was discussed during an event at Cuyahoga Community College on Friday, Dec. 2.  

more commonly cited rate is 66 percent, drawn from a 2004 study from Case Western Reserve University. It can be difficult to calculate literacy rates year to year.

Robert Paponetti, the group’s president and CEO. , called it a “higher-than-we-should-have” percentage. 

“If you’re literate, you take it for granted,” Paponetti said. “And if you’re low-literate, you hide it. I mean, you’ve worked your whole life to make sure other people don’t know that you’re low-literate.”  

The dashboard is expected to be online next week.

Amy Morona covers higher education for Signal Cleveland, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.