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Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves (1). These children are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, have high absentee rates, repeat school years, or drop out.
Of adults with the lowest literacy levels, 43 percent live in poverty, and 70% of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels (2). There is a clear correlation between more education and higher earnings, and between higher educational scores and higher earnings.
An excess of $230 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy (3). 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.
Individuals at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels have a higher rate of unemployment and earn lower wages than the national average. 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 (4).
Every year, one in six young adults—more than 1.2 million—drop out of high school (5). 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. The key to financial success is a viable career path and adequate education to seek meaningful, family-supporting wages. The value to our economy in additional wages and the reduction in costs for various support programs is estimated at more than $200 billion a year.
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 (6). This severely limits their access to jobs, college, and citizenship and increases their vulnerability to living in poverty.
Seventy-five percent of state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate. Ninety-five percent of those incarcerated are reintegrated into our communities. Research shows that inmates who are educated are 43 percent less likely to return to prison (7).
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 (8). At the present levels of public funding, less than 10 percent of adults in need are receiving services.
1. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
2. The National Institute for Literacy
3. American Journal of Public Health
4. National Council for Adult Learning (NCAL)
5. National Center for Education Statistics,
6. Center for Immigration Studies, National Commission on Adult Literacy
7. U.S. Department of Justice, Rand Report: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education
8. ProLiteracy: Member Statistical Report