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).  

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., 63 million adults — 29 percent of the country’s adult population —over age 16 don’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level.
  • An additional 30 million 14 percent of the country’s adult population — can only read at a fifth grade level or lower.
  • 43 percent of adults with the lowest literacy rates in the United States live in poverty.
  • The United States ranks fifth on adult literacy skills when compared to other industrialized nations.
  • Adult low literacy can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States:
    • More than 65 percent of all state and federal corrections inmates can be classified as low literate.
    • Low health literacy costs between $106 billion and $236 billion each year in the U.S.
    • 77 million Americans have only a 2-in-3 chance of correctly reading an over-the-counter drug label or understanding their child’s vaccination chart.
    • Low literacy’s effects cost the U.S. $225 billion or more each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.