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About Raising the Priority of Adult Literacy | What's the Issue | What Do We Need to Do | Act Now

Raising the Priority of Adult Literacy with the President

Making adult literacy a priority with the President would have a positive impact on many of society’s pervasive problems. The President has significant influence over all of them. He proposes the annual federal budget, spearheads legislation initiatives, and has significant influence over which bills become law. From the bully pulpit, the President can legitimize adult learning in the public eye and with local, state, and federal governments. The President must make adult literacy one of his top education priorities, improving the lives of millions in the U.S.

What’s the Issue

Limited access to adult education and literacy services hampers the success of all other federal initiatives and the millions of lives they touch. Adult literacy impacts our nation on these and other important issues:

American Competitiveness

  • Our nation’s ability to remain competitive is related to the skills of its workforce.
  • Businesses lose more than $60 billion in productivity each year due to employees’ basic skill gaps.
  • Only two percent of our workforce comes from public schools each year. Adult education and literacy programs must ensure that adults already in the workforce have the education and skills they need to work in a highly technological workplace.

Children’s Education

  • Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher.
  • Children’s literacy levels are strongly linked to the educational level of their parents, especially their mothers.
  • Many parents do not have the academic skills to nurture and support their child’s education.
  • Children of unemployed parents who have not completed high school are five times more likely to drop out than children of employed parents.


  • There are over 8,000,000 adults under criminal justice supervision in the United States—jail, prison, parole and probation.
  • Over 41% of all incarcerated adults in the U.S. did not complete high school.
  • Participation in correctional education programs reduces recidivism and re-incarceration; yet federal funding accounts for less than 10% of the support for correctional education in prisons.

Economic Self-Sufficiency

  • To qualify for a job with a family sustaining income, adults need at least a GED or diploma plus some postsecondary education or training.
  • Many adults in low-paying jobs or on welfare lack the educational and other job skills necessary to obtain and maintain employment.
  • According to the National Assessment on Adult Literacy (NAAL), literacy levels were lowest for adults who did not complete high school. Adults with lower literacy levels are disproportionately represented in the unemployed.
  • Adults with limited English proficiency are often kept from getting jobs with a family sustaining wage due to their limited ability to read, write and speak the English language.
  • Adult education and literacy classes provide adults with the basic skills they need to reach their full potential and earn a family sustaining wage.


  • In order to get the right health care for themselves and their families, adults must be able to understand basic health information. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), average health literacy increases as adult literacy increases.
  • According to the American Medical Association, individuals with low health literacy incur medical expenses that are up to four times greater than patients with adequate literacy skills, costing the health care system billions of dollars every year for unnecessary doctor visits and hospital stays.


  • Of the 11 to 15 million limited English proficient adults in the United States, only 1.5 million can access English as a Second Language services.
  • New citizens need a command of the English language in order to achieve the American dream, obtain a job with family sustaining wages, and help their children with homework.
  • Although limited English proficient adults make up 15% of all adults in need of adult education services, they comprise 46% of current adult education enrollment.

When Barack Obama ran for President, he said that he would make adult education and literacy one of his top education priorities. He hasn’t—at least not yet.

What Do We Need to Do?

We should elevate the priority of adult education and literacy with the Administration. We need to raise awareness of adult education issues nationwide, increase access to adult education services, reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act now, and make adult education and family literacy an integral part of the solution in addressing national priorities.

How Can You Help?
See what quick actions you can take now to support adult education:


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