Growing Demand, Dwindling Resources
In the U.S. today, there are 30 million adults who can't read better than the average 5th grader.1 And without basic reading, writing, math, and computer skills, these Americans are struggling to find jobs, stay healthy, and support their families.
30 million American
adults need literacy help.
Only 3 million of them
will be lucky enough to get it.
But while the number of people seeking help keeps growing, overall funding for literacy programs has dropped. The bottom line? Even when we combine all of our government and philanthropic funding, we only have enough resources to help 3 million people. See how we're connecting volunteers and students to local literacy programs.
Low literacy hurts the economy by limiting demand for products and stunting job creation.
Americans who need basic literacy instruction also need financial literacy skills. They struggle with everyday budgeting and more complicated tasks like comprehending mortgage documents, which means they're often the victims of predatory lenders and financial scams. Low literate individuals are also twice as likely to be out of work, contributing to the high rate of unemployment in the U.S. Although many are eager to compete in the 21st century job market, they simply lack the skills and training to do so.
Rising Health Costs
Patients with low literacy skills have a 50 percent increased risk of hospitalization.
Low literacy also affects U.S. health care costs, and can often mean the difference between life and death for patients. Nearly half of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information, according to the Center for Healthcare Strategies. This lack of understanding impedes their ability to make appropriate health decisions and increases the likelihood that they'll incur higher health costs. Explore our life skills publications for adult learners.
The Digital Literacy Divide
In today's tech-centric world, basic literacy skills simply aren't enough. Adults need computer skills and access to technology to succeed in our society, whether they're trying to apply for a job online, find accurate health information on the Internet, or simply send an email to their child's teacher.
One in five American adults cannot access or use the Internet.
Those without a high school education are among the least likely to have access.
But low literacy skills and poverty keep many people from seizing the opportunities of our digital society. In fact, adults without a high school education and those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year are the least likely to have Internet access3—much less an understanding of how to use the technology. Learn about our digital literacy initiatives.
The Need for Student Leadership
To create a more literate society, we need our adult learners to be fully engaged in the fight for change. And that means they must learn to move past the stigma of low literacy and emerge as leaders, so they can raise their voices for stronger education programs and better government funding.
Funding for adult literacy programs decreased by $6 million in 2011.4
But teaching public speaking, critical thinking, strategic planning, and political organizing skills requires an expansion of the services that most literacy programs deliver. And with resources and funding scarce, many programs may be forced to offer fewer services to their students—meaning that teaching vital leadership skills simply won't be in the budget. See how we're developing adult learner leaders.
Government Funding and Programs in Jeopardy
In tough economic times, adult learners need literacy programs and basic education more than ever. But these are also the times when federal and state funding for adult literacy are most likely to be reduced or severely cut. Without the assistance of local programs and tutors, people who vitally need literacy education will also be more likely to need unemployment benefits and other forms of public assistance, adding to the drain on already-strapped local communities.
To interrupt this cycle, policymakers must clearly understand the widespread consequences of low literacy. This requires dedicated literacy champions in Washington, D.C., and around the country, including paid advocates who can monitor legislation, programs, regulations, and public policies that affect adult learners and literacy providers—so we can all continue the fight for change. Learn how we're advocating for adult literacy.