About 130 million adults in the U.S. have low literacy skills according to a Gallup analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education. This means more than half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 (54%) read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level.
Literacy is broadly defined as the ability to read and write, but it more accurately encompasses the comprehension, evaluation and utilization of information, which is why people describe many different types of literacy — such as health, financial, legal, etc. Low literacy skills can profoundly affect the day-to-day success of adults in the real world, and these impacts extend to their families, too.
Dr. Iris Feinberg, associate director of the Adult Literacy Research Center at Georgia State University, said anyone can have low literacy skills.
“It’s not just people who are poor. It’s not just people who are racial minorities. It’s not just people who speak funny because they’re from the South. It literally can be anybody,” she said.
Historically, adult literacy has been underfunded and underrepresented in academic and scientific research, according to Feinberg, a sentiment echoed by Dr. Margaret Patterson, a senior researcher at Research Allies for Lifelong Learning.