Letters for Literacy

Together We Will Become a Larger Voice

We need your help!

The lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-H) need to know that funding for adult education is essential to the success of adult learners. They need to know that this funding creates a return on investment for economic development. Everyone in every state needs to get involved since the full Senate will vote on appropriations. 

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Your Senators Need to Hear From You!

We also urge you to contact your Senator directly to help promote the importance of supporting a significant increase in the AEFLA/WIOA Title II line item. The Senators on the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-H) need to know that funding for adult education is essential to the success of adult learners, and a return on investment for economic development.

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ProLiteracy's Letter to Congress:

Dear Representatives Cochran, Leahy, Blunt, and Murray:

We are writing to you today to ask for your support to increase funding for adult education. This funding is essential to the success of adult learners and has a significant return on investment for a variety of social issues that are pressing for our country.

In the U.S., 36 million adults, or 1 in 6, have low literacy skills. Investing in adult education and basic skills programs not only improves the lives of adults and their families but also positively impacts their communities. By building a more literate adult population, we can make strides to improve poverty, health care, crime rates, and the educational development of children.

Despite the proven impact of funding adult education, federal funding has continued to decline for the past 10 years in real dollars, leaving adult education programs unable to meet the needs of their communities.

We urge you to support our request to significantly increase funding for the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) and Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to make a difference in every community across America.


The ProLiteracy Public Policy and Advocacy Committee

Why Adult Literacy? The 7 Impacts of Low Adult Basic Skills

Why not focus on health, workforce development, or poverty relief? The answer is simple— adult literacy intersects with all of these. We won’t solve these socioeconomic problems unless we build a more literate adult population. Adult basic education programs bring a powerful return on investment, impacting the lives of Americans, their families, and communities. Adult basic education helps adults break cycles of inter-generational poverty and illiteracy by providing adults the skills they need to succeed as workers, parents, and citizens. Research shows that better-educated parents raise better-educated, more successful children who are less likely to end up in poverty or prison. The seven impacts of adult basic skills include:


There is a lot of focus on how early childhood education and the Common Core State Standards in K-12 are meant to better prepare students for success in college, career, and life. But research shows that focusing on educating kids without adequately addressing adults will not solve the skills gap. Children whose parents have low literacy levels have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. These children are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, have high absentee rates, repeat school years, or drop out. Low-literate parents who improve their own skills are more likely to have a positive impact on their children’s educational achievements.

An excess of $230 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy skills. 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. When one accounts for the future costs of low health literacy to taxpayers, the real present-day cost of low health literacy is in the range of $1.6 trillion to $3.6 trillion.

About 2 million immigrants come to the U.S. each year seeking better jobs and better lives. About 50 percent of them lack high school education and proficient English language skills, severely limiting their access to jobs and job training, college, and citizenship. This increases their vulnerability to unemployment and living in poverty. Not only are the adults at risk, but so are their children. Poverty in immigrant populations adds to the strain on the U.S. society, which is already dealing with a significant percentage of impoverished citizens.

One in every 100 U.S. adults 16 and older is in prison or jail (about 2.2 million in 2014). Seventy-five percent of state prison inmates and 59 percent of federal 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. It is hard for them to find jobs when already burdened with a prison record, but it is nearly impossible when they lack basic literacy and technology skills. Research shows that inmates who are educated are 43 percent less likely to return to prison. Further, the employment rate for those released was 13 percent higher for those who received an education. 
There has been much discussion lately about the “skills gap,” or disconnect between available jobs and qualified workers. We cannot have a conversation about improving our country’s workforce without first talking about the long-term economic impact of low literacy. Individuals at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels have a higher rate of unemployment and lower wages than the national average. Low literacy costs the U.S. $225 billion or more each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.

High school dropout rates are staggering. Every year, one in three young adults—more than 1.2 million—drop out of high school. Recent data shows 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.


To be successful in today’s digital world, literacy goes beyond being able to read and write. Digital literacy includes the ability to use technology such as computers, smartphones, and the Internet—and low-literate Americans are disproportionately finding themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. We are now not only looking at equity of access to technology, but also at how people are able to use that access. As a result we now are referring to the digital use divide, emphasizing how important it is for adults to know how to use digital access to find information, apply for jobs or driver’s licenses, bank online, access social networks, and protect their personal information. While national efforts to address affordable access to information technology and broadband are being achieved, efforts to improve e-skills are struggling to keep pace with demand. Learning basic skills is essential for all adults.

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