U. S. Literacy Facts

More than 43 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level.

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, 50% of adult education programs are struggling with long student waiting lists due to demand exceeding program capacity. At the present levels of public funding, less than 10% of adults in need are receiving services.

The Cost of Low Literacy

Bringing all adults to the equivalent of a sixth-grade level would generate an additional $2.2 trillion in annual income for the country.

It is estimated between $106 - $238 billion in health care costs a year are linked to low adult literacy skills. Adults with limited health literacy are hospitalized and use emergency services at significantly higher rates than those with higher skills.

Median weekly earnings in 2018 for those with the highest levels of educational attainment—doctoral and professional degrees—were more than triple those with the lowest level, less than a high school diploma. Workers age 25 and over who have less education than a high school diploma had the highest unemployment rate (5.4%) and lowest median weekly earnings ($592), three times less than the highest level of education.

The 2020 recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic saw adults with less than a high school diploma suffer the highest unemployment rate compared to all other education levels.

English Language Learners

The U.S. has the world’s largest immigrant population, holding one-in-five of the world’s immigrants. Among immigrants only half (53%) are proficient English speakers. By 2065, immigrants and their descendants are projected to increase the U.S. population by 103 million people.


75% of state incarcerated individuals did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate.

Incarcerated individuals who participate in correctional education programs are 43% less likely to recidivate than inmates who do not.

Family Literacy

A mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.

Children of less-educated parents are much more likely to become low-skilled adults. U.S. adults with low levels of education who have parents with low levels of education are 10 times more likely to have low skills than are those who have higher-educated parents.