Literacy for All: Adult Literacy @ your library - Adult Literacy in the U.S.

The ALA Committee on Literacy defines literacy as the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.

Adult Literacy in the U.S. 

In 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) – a nationally representative assessment of adult literacy levels, with adults defined as people 16 years of age and older living in households or prisons. 

The NAAL measured adults’ ability to perform everyday literacy tasks  including:

  • Prose Literacy—the knowledge and skills to search, comprehend, and use continuous texts (e.g. editorials, news stories, brochures, and instructional materials).
  • Document Literacy—the knowledge and skills to search, comprehend, and use non-continuous texts in various formats (e.g.  job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables, and drug or food labels).
  • Quantitative Literacy—The knowledge and skills to identify and perform computations using numbers embedded in printed materials (e.g. balancing a checkbook, calculating a tip, etc.)
The  NAAL survey found that 90 million American adults read at the two lowest literacy levels, basic or below basic. These low literate adults lack the literacy skills necessary to read and comprehend the information in complex documents. A closer look reveals that: 
  • 14% of adults (30 million) function at a below basic prose literacy level and 29% (62 million) function at a basic prose literacy level
  • 12% of adults (25 million) function at a below basic document literacy level and 22% (47 million) function at a basic document literacy level
  • 22% of adults (47 million) function at a below basic quantitative literacy level and 33% (71 million) function at a basic quantitative literacy level
In addition, 11 million adults are nonliterate in English.  These adults fall into two groups:
 
7 million who could not answer simple test questions
 
4 million who could not take the test because of language barriers. 
 
The U.S. Census (http://www.census.gov/) features local and national data sets, including Educational Attainment, that can help you learn more about your community’s literacy needs.