Facts about Literacy

The Numbers Don't Lie

Low literacy is a global crisis that affects all of us. That's why it's so important to understand the issues and confront the facts head on. Only then can we can stand together to fight for change.


Adults Over 16

Adults Over 16







English for Speakers of Other Languages


International Facts

Child & Teen Pregnancy

Child and Teen Pregnancy




Impacted Regions

Impacted Regions

Literacy and Economics

A 1% increase in average literacy rates yields a 1.5% permanent increase in the GDP.

Per capita income in countries with a literacy rate less than 55% averages about $600

Youth Literacy

Overall, more than half of countries with data have youth literacy rates of 95% or higher

Sources: The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (Department of Education); The Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report; Bureau of Labor Statistics (Department of Labor); The United Nations USAID 2012; UNESCO


Facts and Statistics - Texas

In Texas, 3.8 million people need the services of an adult education program, but only 100,000 are being served (TWIC 2010, A Primer on Adult Education in Texas).

Texas has slipped from 45th to last among states ranked by percent for citizens in 2005 (age 25 and older) who have a high school diploma or GED (Murdock, 2007).

Dropouts cost Texas $9.6 Billion (United Ways of Texas).

It is estimated that more than $2 billion is spent each year on students who repeat a grade because they have reading problems (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

There are 3.8 million adults in Texas without a high school diploma (Texas LEARNS, 2005).

One in three adults cannot read this sentence (National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003).

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that adults 18 and older with a master’s, professional or doctoral degree earned an average of $79,946, while those with less than a high school diploma earned about $19,915. Adults with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $54,689 in 2005 while those with a high school diploma earned $29,448 (Census Bureau, 2007).

Texas has 6.5 million residents who speak a language other than English at home, almost double the national percentage, composing 38.6% of the Texas population (Texas LEARNS, 2005).

A rise in of 1% in literacy scores leads to a 2.5% rise in labor productivity and a 1.5% rise in GDP (The Economist, August 28, 2004).

93 million American adults, or 45% of the adult population, have limited reading, writing, and math skills (National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003).

Six of the ten fastest growing occupations listed by the US Department of labor in its employment projections through 2012 require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree (U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, 2004).

Literacy programs in Texas are only serving 3.6% of the 3.8 million in need of adult basic education services (Texas LEARNS, April 2005).

Raising literacy and numeracy for people at the bottom of the skills distribution is more important to economic growth than producing more highly skilled graduates (2005 C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, “Public Investment in skills: Are Canadian Governments Doing Enough?” by Serge Coulombe and Jean-Francois Tremblay).

In the 2003 Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey, the United States outperformed Italy in literacy and numeracy, but was outperformed by Bermuda, Canada, Norway, and Switzerland in both skill areas (National Center for Education Statistics, 2005).

Facts and Statistics - United States (Proliteracy America)

More than 36 million American adults struggle to read, write, do math, and use technology above a third grade level.  The recent Program of the International Assessment of Adult Literacy (PIACC) examined the United States and 23 other industrialized countries and found:

  • The U.S. mean literacy score was sbelow the international average - ranking 16th out of 24 countries.
  • Only twleve percent of adults in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the literacy scale.
  • Only nine percent of adults in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the numeracy scale.
  • Only six percent of adults in the U.S. and 8 percent of adults under 35 in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the problem-solving/technology scale. 
Adult Literacy in the United States (Proliteracy America)

Current federal appropriations for adult basic education in the U.S. total just over $600 million,

which provides funding to serve just three million individuals.

There is a correlation between a low literacy rate and a low paycheck.

• Just 35 percent of individuals with below basic skills are employed full time, while 64 percent in

the proficient category have full-time jobs.

• The salaries of adults with below-basic literacy skills are, on average, $28,000 less than salaries

of adults with proficient skills.

• Single mothers who lack a high school degree are much more likely to be on welfare than women

who have a high school degree.

• Women with low literacy are twice as likely as men to be in the lowest earnings category of $300

a week or less.

• Minimum wage workers increased wages by 18 to 25 percent within 18 months of exiting an adult

education program.


• People with low skills are four times more likely to have poor health (two times the national average).


• The percentage of employed adults in the U.S. who performed at the highest proficiency level

was lower than the international average of employed adults who performed at the highest

proficiency level.

• The U.S. has the highest levels of income inequality and literacy skills inequality.


• Americans with a high school diploma or less scored lower in literacy, on average, than their

counterparts in the other 23 countries.

• People who come from low educated families are 10 times more likely to have low literacy skills.

• The difference in literacy proficiency between people with the lowest and highest education

levels was greater in the U.S. than in any of the other 23 countries.


• The percentage of black and Hispanic adults in the U.S. who performed at the highest proficiency

level on the literacy scale was lower than the percentage of white adults.

• Literacy differences between native-born and foreign-born Americans were greater than the

average internationally.

• The difference in average literacy scores between the youngest and oldest Americans was

smaller than in any other country.