Adult Literacy

Health. Gender equality. Poverty. Every important social issue is impacted by low literacy. When individuals learn how to read, write, do basic math, and use computers, they have the power to lift themselves out of poverty, lower health care costs, find and keep sustainable employment, and ultimately change their lives.

  • Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.
  • Of adults with the lowest literacy levels, 43 percent live in poverty, and 70% of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels.
  • An excess of $230 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy. Nearly half of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information. Lack of understanding impedes adults’ abilities to make appropriate health decisions and increases the likelihood that they’ll incur higher health costs.
  • Low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.
  • Every year, one in six young adults—more than 1.2 million—drop out of high school. Recent data show that nearly 30 percent of adults with household incomes at or below the federal poverty line do not have a high school credential.
  • About 50 percent of the 2 million immigrants that come to the U.S. each year lack high school education and proficient English language skills.
  • Seventy-five percent of state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate.

Adult education is in critical need for services. A decline in federal and state funding in the past 10 years has resulted in programs serving only a fraction of the adults in need. Currently, two-thirds of adult education programs are struggling with long student waiting lists. At the present levels of public funding, less than 10 percent of adults in need are receiving services.  (From

Click on the links below for more information on Adult Literacy:

National organizations:
National Coalition Literacy

Local organization:
Learn to Read NWF