Project Literacy Adult Literacy

Literacy Facts

  • Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee and member of the community.
  • In the U.S., 63 million adults, 29% of the country’s adult population, over age 16 don’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level.
  • An additional 30 million or 14% of the country’s adult population can only read at a fifth grade level or lower.
  • 43% of adults with the lowest literacy rates in the United States live in poverty.
  • The United States ranks fifth on adult literacy skills compared to other industrialized nations. Adult low literacy can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States:
    • More than 65% of all state and federal corrections inmates can be classified as low literate.
    • Low health literacy costs between $106 billion and $236 billion each year in the U.S.
    • Seventy-seven million Americans have only a 2-in-3 chance of correctly reading an over-the-counter drug label or understanding their child’s vaccination chart.
    • Low literacy’s effects cost the U.S. $225 billion or more each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.

The Impact of Literacy

Adults Need Strong Literacy Skills

…to raise children who have strong literacy skills

Learning to read begins long before a child enters school. It begins when parents read to their children, buy their children books, and encourage their children to read. The research is clear: parents who are poor readers don’t read as often to their children as do parents who are strong readers; children who are not read to enter school less prepared for learning to read than other children.

…to be good employees

The employees most in demand in the U.S. have at least a two-year college degree. Workers must be able to read safety regulations and warnings so they and their co-workers can stay safe on the job. And working in a team means that employees must be able to communicate clearly with one another.

…to keep themselves and their families healthy

Understanding a doctor’s orders, calculating how much medicine to take, reading disease-prevention pamphlets—all are ways adults can keep themselves and their families healthy. But millions of adults lack these essential “health literacy” skills, which adds an estimated $230 billion a year to the cost of health care in the U.S.

…to be active in their communities

Political campaigns in the U.S. often stress the need for “informed voters.” But how can an individual be well informed if he or she cannot access written campaign literature or read newspaper coverage of the issues and candidates? The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, showed that low literate adults are less likely to vote than strong readers, but become more active in their communities as their reading and writing skills improve.

…to advocate for themselves and avoid human rights abuse

People must be aware of their rights in order to assert them. Literacy gives people access to that information. Literacy plays a significant role in reducing gender inequality.

…to avoid crime

There is a clear correlation between adult illiteracy and crime. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (2003), 75% of America’s state prison inmates, almost 59% of federal inmates, and 69% of jail inmates did not complete high school.

Without English and essential educational skills, families and adult learners cannot achieve their full potential. Increasing literacy, decreases social problems, poverty, crime and health care cost. Literacy prepare adults for gainful employment to provide for their families. As you read the facts below, you will realize that illiteracy is a problem that affects our entire society and not just individuals:

  • According to the estimates by the United States Department of Labor, literacy problems cost the U.S. businesses about $255 billion a year in lost productivity;
  • 50% of American Adults are unable to read a book at the eight grade level, 23% of American Adults are functional illiterate according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy;
  • According to the United States Department of Education, 22 million people each year (44,000 people each week) are added to the adult illiterate population in the United States;
  • Adults with limited reading and writing abilities have poorer health, avoid seeing a doctor which results in worsening conditions that leads to increased trips to the emergency room.
  • Families and adult learners needing basic education are an enormous potential asset. They want to improve their lives, their communities, and their children’s future. 90% of fortune 1000 companies stated that “Low literacy levels are limiting their productivity and profitability.” Literacy is essential for job opportunities, participation in civic and community engagement and meaningful involvement in children’s education. Literacy strengthens our economy, neighborhoods and families.

(Sources: ProLiteracy, 2010 Census, LVNJ, State of Adult Literacy Report, Department of Education, Ohio Research Center, Do Something.org, ThinkQuest)



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