Low Literacy: The Issue

The problem of low literacy is widespread, both in the United States at large and in our own local area. Did you know that…

  • 50% of U.S. adults function at or below the second of five levels of literacy. (Source: NIFL)
  • 1 in 5 adults read at or below the fifth-grade reading level, not high enough to earn a living. (Source: NIFL)
  • The U.S. ranks 10th in literacy out of 17 high-income countries!
  • In Pennsylvania, 48% of adults are at or below level 2, and in Norristown Borough, 56% of adults are at or below level 2. (Source: CASAS)

Low literacy is not just a problem that affects the individual; it affects society at large.

  • 43% of adults falling into the lowest literacy level live in poverty.
  • Low-literacy adults make an average of 35% of the wage of those at the highest levels of literacy.
  • 70% of mothers on welfare fall into the lowest two levels of literacy, and the literacy level of the mother is an important predictor of her child’s future literacy level.
  • 70% of prisoners are at or below literacy level 2. (Source: ETS)

Helping someone raise their level of English literacy can enable them to do things that the literate native speaker takes for granted. Imagine not being able to read to your child or help them with their homework, not being able to fill out an application, not being able to understand a doctor’s instructions, or not being able to read a map.

The response to Low Literacy

The Literacy Council of Norristown and other organizations like us were formed to address the low-literacy problem by training volunteer tutors to work one-on-one or in small groups with adults needing help, at no cost to the student. We provide training and materials to enable our tutors to tackle low literacy one person at a time.

Working one-on-one or in small groups lets our tutors tailor the instruction to the needs and goals of their student. New tutors are asked to meet twice weekly and work with their student for a minimum of three hours per week at a mutually convenient time. The goals our adult students reach are as varied as the adults: some go on to get a job or advance in their current jobs, some get their high school equivalency (GED) or go on to advanced education, some are able to read to their child for the first time, some obtain their citizenship, some become more comfortable speaking English in public. Many of our tutors have told us that they are not sure who is more rewarded, the tutor or the student!

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