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Our basic quality of life depends on our ability to read, write, and comprehend.

The Issue

The reality of literacy in America

More people are affected by low literacy in the United States than are diagnosed with cancer or heart
disease. And there are multigenerational, economic and health consequences from the literacy crisis.

Literacy affects everyone, everywhere

Low literacy impacts every aspect of life and every person as a result. Populations at-risk for unemployment, low educational attainment, and lack of access to healthcare overlap with areas where low literacy rates are highest. Unmet literacy needs create barriers to success, making access in such communities even more vital.

1 in 5
adults in the U.S. struggle to read
basic sentences. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. (2015, February). Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States.
Communities across the U.S. that are at-risk for unemployment and poor health outcomes are the same communities where low literacy rates are most prevalent. Explore the data in our literacy gap map.
See the gap map >

Why it matters

A child’s literacy begins with their parents. A mother’s education level is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors like family income. National Institutes for Health. (2010). Improving mothers’ literacy skills may be best way to boost children’s achievement.

Breaking the cycle of low literacy also improves health outcomes and the economy. Adults with limited health literacy, which is closely correlated with literacy level, are hospitalized and use emergency services at a significantly higher rate than those with higher skills. Berkman, Nancy & Sheridan, Stacey & Donahue, Katrina & Halpern, David & Crotty, Karen. (2011). Low Health Literacy and Health Outcomes: An Updated Systematic Review. Annals of internal medicine. 

$240 B
potential boost in our economy if literacy skills increase by one percent. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2010). The High Cost of Low Educational Performance: The Long-run Economic Impact of Improving PISA Outcomes, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Where we go from here

Literacy gives a person the ability to navigate the world with dignity. The ability to read, write, and comprehend is critical to taking control of our own lives and advocating for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities. When people aren’t equipped with those skills, they’re left with limited options in life.

Over the last 30 years, we’ve raised and provided more than $110 million in support for programs in low-literate communities across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But this is just the start. We know that literacy is the key that unlocks every other issue our country faces today. When we solve literacy, we solve everything.

Learn more about OUR IMPACT.

in all fifty states and
in D.C.

It takes courage and heart
to return to education

Lester's Story