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New Data on Adult Literacy is a Clarion Call

(Syracuse, N.Y.)—October 8, 2013—ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation, today urged the nation's leaders to invest more resources in adult literacy and basic education in light of new data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). PIAAC's findings include:

  • Low literacy (reading) skills continue to be a major problem in the United States. One in six adults has low literacy skills.
  • In addition to low reading 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.

For more information about the PIAAC data, visit the website of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Download the U.S. country notes from

"We know that prosperity and job security are inextricably linked with basic education for all adults," says Kevin Morgan, president and CEO of ProLiteracy. "What the PIAAC study illustrates is the potentially damaging effects that lack of literacy and basic education can have on individuals, families, communities, and even our entire country. Our global competiveness is predicated on a literate workforce. The PIAAC data shows that now is the time to invest in adult literacy and basic education."

ProLiteracy data shows that funding for adult education and English language instruction has declined since 2002. Federally-funded literacy and basic education programs only reach 3 percent of those in need of adult literacy services. The vast majority of adult education programs around the nation report waiting lists of between two and three months on average for basic education, English language learning, and GED preparation services.

"Adult literacy and basic education programs are crucial to alleviating poverty and putting Americans back to work," Morgan concludes. "We urge President Obama, the Department of Education, Congress, and the private sector to invest more resources into adult literacy and basic education today so that Americans can get the skills they need to find jobs, earn wages, strengthen communities, educate their children, and strengthen the economy. The time for this investment is now. It's critical, and can no longer be ignored."

CONTACT: Amy Schmitz,, (315) 214-2580.

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