What are the effects


who don’t learn to read by the end of first grade have a chance of just 1 in 8 of learning to read on grade level (Connie Juel, 1988; Sally Shaywitz, 1999).

36 percent of parents who had less than a high school diploma visited a library with their children in 2003. For parents with a bachelor’s degree, 58 percent visited a library with their children (Digest of Education Statistics, 2008).

20 percent of parents who had less than a high school diploma volunteered at their children’s school in 2007. Among parents with a bachelor’s degree, 57 percent volunteered at their children’s school (Digest of Education Statistics, 2008).


with below basic prose literacy skills make up 1 in 7 overall in the U.S. and more than half of those without a high school diploma or GED (NAAL, 2003). Millions of other adults have basic but still very limited reading skills.

Economy and workforce

2008 median weekly earnings for full-time workers age 25 and over with less than a high school diploma were $426. For high school graduates the median weekly earnings were $591. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree earned $978 per week (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey).

70 percent of adults with the lowest level of literacy skills are unemployed or work part-time (NALS, 1992; Kirsch Study, 1993). A welfare recipient with Level 1 literacy skills may need up to 1100 hours of education and training to gain necessary skills (National Institute for Literacy).

80 to 90 million U.S. adults, about half of the adult workforce, do not have the basic education and communications skills required to get or advance in jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage (2008 Report of the National Commission on Adult Literacy, “Reach Higher, America: Overcoming Crisis in the U.S. Workforce”). 53 percent of manufacturers say they have unfilled positions because they cannot find qualified candidates (National Association of Manufacturers).

Immigrants and social integration Demand for English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) programs nationwide has increased with the number of immigrants and their children. A 2006 study by the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education noted 78 percent of ESOL programs had waiting lists because they were unable to create additional capacity to serve the local need. Nationwide, over 90,000 people were unable to enroll because of insufficient classes.


People with low levels of literacy are 52 percent more likely to be hospitalized than people with higher levels of literacy (Journal of the American Medical Association).

Research suggests that people with low levels of literacy are less able to follow treatments and make more dosage and treatment errors (Pfizer Clear Health Communication Initiative).


The U.S. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. One in every 100 Americans 16 and older is behind bars (2.6 million in 2006); 43 percent of inmates do not have a high school diploma and 56 percent have very limited literacy skills. When released back into society, this population has an extremely difficult time getting jobs due to their prison records, but for those without sufficient education and literacy skills finding employment is nearly impossible (Executive Summary, Report of the National Commission on Adult Literacy, 2008).

70 percent of adult prisoners are at the bottom two levels of literacy (National Adult Literacy Survey).

More than 1 in 3 juvenile offenders in correctional facilities have reading skills below the average fourth-grade student (Open Society Institute: Criminal Justice Initiative).

Most prisoners do not participate in prison education programs and the rate of participation has dropped. Re-arrest, reconviction, and re-incarceration rates were lower for the prison population who had participated in correctional education than for non-participants (Three State Recidivism Study).


High school dropouts are more than three times as likely to receive public assistance as high school graduates (Proliteracy America). Welfare recipients with low literacy skills and less education stay on welfare the longest (Take Action for Literacy).

Annual health care costs for individuals with low literacy are four times as high as for those with greater literacy skills (Pfizer Clear Health Communication Initiative). Additional health care expenditures due to low health literacy skills are $73 billion annually (National Academy on an Aging Society).

19 percent of people in the lowest literacy level receive food stamps versus only 4 percent of people in the two highest literacy levels; 43 percent of people in the lowest literacy level live in poverty (NAAL, 2003).

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