New data on Adult Literacy

We have known for years that U.S. kids weren’t keeping up with their peers internationally.  Now we know adults are not keeping up either. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, released data on adult competencies in the United States as compared to 32 other countries worldwide. The U.S. lagged behind in these key areas:

Low literacy (reading) skills; one in six adults has low literacy skills.

  • Nearly one-third of U.S. adults have significant deficiencies in numeracy—putting the U.S. below most of the other countries in the international study.
  • Levels of our oldest workers are not better than our youngest workers, indicating little progress over the last two decades.
  • Social and economic background continue to have a strong influence on basic skills in the United States—to a much greater extent than in many other countries in the study.
  • In the United States, the odds of reporting “fair” or “poor” health are four times greater for those with low literacy skills than for highly skilled adults. This is double the average ratio observed across participating countries.

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) illustrates the potentially damaging effects that lack of literacy and basic education can have on individuals, families, communities, and even our entire country. The reality is, Literacy Outreach already has a waiting list of over 100 for adult literacy and basic education services in Glenwood Springs. Also, our national membership organization, ProLiteracy, recently reported that 40% of adult learners seeking services were unemployed in 2012—up from 35% in 2011.

We hope the Administration, Congress, and private sector recognize the huge disparity between need and resources. Without additional funding, the gap between the competencies of American adults and adults in other countries will only result in an even more underskilled workforce. Our global competiveness is based on a literate workforce, and this new data shows that the time to invest in adult literacy and basic education is now.

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