_DGP5805a Literacy, as defined by the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, is an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute, and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society. These are the foundation skills that allow for full participation in the community and workplace.

These levels of proficiency encompass a wide range of new skills not even imagined 50 years ago. Computer literacy, digital literacy, and visual literacy, to name a few, are all part of the bigger picture of what it means to be a literate person in today’s society.

The challenge 

According to the most recent census estimates, there are approximately 46,000 Bucks County residents over the age of 15 who lack basic literacy skills.  This includes native speakers and those for whom English is a second language.

The impact

The National Institute for Literacy estimates that 43% of adult with very low literacy skills live in poverty.

A mother’s literacy level is one of the most significant predictors of a child’s future success in school, according to the National Institutes of Health. Parents with low levels of education are at a disadvantage in supporting their child’s education.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2013 Survey of Adult Skills in a report, Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Say. These survey findings show that the United States has significant basic skill weaknesses within the adult working-age population. Although two-thirds of the low-skilled respondents in the U.S. sample are employed, they are not employed in jobs with high wages.

Only 26% of jobs today don’t require a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Many studies show that low health literacy is associated with poor health outcomes and increased healthcare costs. Nielsen-Bohlman, Panzer, and Kindig (2004) found that individuals with limited health literacy reported poorer health status and were less likely to use preventive care.

The value of adult basic education 

Vita’s adult basic education programs focus on the improvement of basic skills that lead to greater opportunities for individuals seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Funding for Adult Basic Education brings significant returns to individuals, their families, and communities. Adults with a high school education and beyond are:

  • more likely to be employed.
  • better able to help their children succeed in school.
  • less likely to live in poverty and need public assistance, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and housing subsidies.
  • more likely to contribute to the tax base through state and federal income taxes.

As educational attainment levels increase, unemployment rates decrease.  According to the 2013 American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau, Bucks County residents with Bachelor’s degrees or higher have a 3.9% unemployment rate compared to 17.1% for individuals without a high school diploma.