The Need for Literacy Programs


“Adults need strong literacy skills to get good jobs, stay healthy, be active in their communities, avoid human rights abuse, avoid crime, and to raise children who have strong literacy skills. The employees most in demand in the U.S. have at least a two-year college degree. Literacy begins when parents read to their children and encourage their children to read. Parents who are poor readers don’t read as often to their children. When young children are not read to, they enter school less prepared for learning to read than other children.”

-New Mexico Department of Health, “Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health,” 25 Oct 2012

In New Mexico, 20% of adults have literacy skills at level 1, the lowest level on a scale of 1 to 5.  Each literacy level is associated with a specific set of skills that are generally accepted as necessary for full participation in society.   Individuals at level 1, for example,  have difficulty locating simple information in a news article or applying basic math to determine the total on a sales receipt.

In terms of literacy level 2, 46% of New Mexico’s population is at this level or below.   As a benchmark in practical terms, nearly two-thirds (64%) of all jobs today require literacy skills beyond level 2, while only 12% require skills at level 1 and 24% at level 2, according to a study by the Milken Institute.

Based on a statewide population of 1,954,599 and a 46% functionally illiterate population, it is estimated that 899,115 adults are in need of literacy services. Statewide, 25% of adults age 21 and older and 18.5% of adults age 25 and older lack a high school diploma or its equivalent.  

*Literacy and Related Statistics for New Mexico Counties: Based on census data and literacy estimates from The State of Literacy in America (National Institute for Literacy, 1998).  

Some Basic Facts about Literacy in U.S.  (from

Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member.

  • In the U.S., more than 36 million adults cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third grade level.
  • Sixty-eight percent of programs are struggling with long student waiting lists, and less than 10% of adults in need are receiving services.
  • Forty-three percent of adults with the lowest literacy rates in the United States live in poverty.
  • Adult low literacy can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States:
    • Seventy-five percent of all state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate.
    • $232 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy skills.
    • Children whose parents have low literacy levels have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. These children are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, have high absentee rates, repeat school years, or drop out.
    • One in six young adults — more than 1.2 million — drop out of high school every year.

ProLiteracy Adult Literacy Facts