The Guardian reports today on an NEA study that Americans are reading less and only about half of American adults read literature at all. According to the NEA, the study “documents an overall decline of 10 percentage points in literary readers from 1982 to 2002, representing a loss of 20 million potential readers. The rate of decline is increasing and, according to the survey, has nearly tripled in the last decade.” The conclusion is alarmist, it is a “national crisis.” 47% of adults said they read at least one work of literature and 57% said they had read a book.
The NEA says the decline has to do with the increase of electronic media. Perhaps that has had some impact, but you can’t keep blaming TV and computers for everything. They do say that there is a relation between reading and education level and income. They don’t seem to make a connection between how a family’s income affects what kind of education a child gets. A family in poverty will not likely be sending their children to college. As more and more of this country’s wealth belongs to fewer and fewer people and individuals and families have to work longer hours and sometimes multiple jobs to make ends meet, when is there going to be time to read? There are some days I come home from work too exhausted to read and I am a compulsive reader. I can imagine how easy it is for people who enjoy a good book now and then to become so overwhelmed by life that reading a book is not a priority. Instead of focusing on the fact that people aren’t reading, I think we need to find out why and address those issues. Perhaps there needs to be a follow up survey with the people who said they did not read a book. Ask them why. That would be a useful piece of information.