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About Literacy
The Lowdown on Literacy: facts on adult literacy at the state and national levels
Literacy and Poverty | Literacy and Health | Literacy and Families | Literacy and Crime | Literacy and Age | Literacy and Race | Literacy in America

Literacy and Poverty <top of page>

  • The National Literacy Act defines literacy as “an individual’s ability to read, write, speak English, compute, and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve one’s goals,and to develop one’s knowledge and potential” [NIFL--http://www.nifl.gov/nifl/facts/facts_overview.html].
  • 20% of the undereducated adults are at or below the poverty level. Of these, 36% have completed less than 9 years of school .
  • At least 50% of the unemployed are functionally illiterate [U.S. Departmentof Labor--http://www.main.nc.us/literacy/statistics.html]. At 3,105,000 this number is almost equal to the population of Connecticut(3,282,031 according to Census 2000--http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/2khome.htm).
  • 43% of adults at the lowest level of literacy were living in poverty, compared to only 4% of those at the highest level [NIFL--http://www.nifl.gov/nifl/facts/facts_overview.html].
  • The likelihood of being on welfare is inversely proportional to literacy levels. Three out of four food stamp recipients performed at the two lowest literacy levels
  • In general, schools with high poverty concentrations reported less parental involvement than schools with lower poverty concentrations: 72% of schools with low concentrations of poverty reported “most or all” parents attended open house, but that rate drops to 28% in schools with high concentrations of poverty [NCES. Parent Involvement in Children’s Education: Efforts by Public Elementary Schools, January, 1998].
  • Adults who have not received a high school diploma are unemployed at nearly 3 times the rate of their peers with high school diplomas [State of Oregon Employment Department].
  • Oregonians who dropped out of high school earned an average of $492/month. Finishing high school more than doubles the average Oregonian’s salary, at $1,077/month. Attending some college (but earning no degree) raised income to $1,280/month, while those with Associate’s Degrees earn $1,672/month. A Bachelor’s Degree earns Oregonians $2,822 to $4,961/month [Office of Community College Services].
  • Education plays a key role in poverty [“Poverty in Oregon” http://eesc.orst.edu/agcomwebfile/edmat/html/em/em8743/part2/educationplays.html]. “The lack of appropriate education and experience is a major obstacle that keeps many from escaping the ranks of the poor.”

Literacy and Health <top of page>

  • Health literacy is defined as “the literacy skills needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle and function in the healthcare system.”
  • Nearly half of the adults at the lowest levels of literacy have difficulty operating effectively in society. Such problems include difficulties reading and understanding medical instructions from care-providers, consent forms, and prescription labels [1993 National Adult Literacy Survey].

Literacy and Family <top of page>

  • The literacy levels of parents are crucial in predicting those of their children. The first three years of life are the most important in determining a child’s success in school [NIFL--http://www.nifl.gov/nifl/facts/facts_overview.html].
  • Children are 30% more likely to be read to if their mothers completed high school [National Center for Education Statistics, 2000].
  • The more types of reading material there are in the home, the higher students in those homes score in reading proficiency [Educational Testing Service.America’s Smallest School: The Family, 1999].
  • Youngsters whose parents are functionally illiterate are twice as likely as their peers to be functionally illiterate themselves [National Assessment of Education Progress--http://www.main.nc.us/literacy/statistics.html].
  • Children are twice as likely to watch 6 or more hours of television a day if their parents dropped out of high school [Child Trends, Inc. 1999].
  • Parental involvement in schooling is an important predictor of high school completion. In looking at children who participated in Child-Parent Center Programs, there is a 7-8% reduction in the probability of drop out from high school [Institute for Research on Poverty, paper no. 1180-98,1998]. * Note: Parental involvement can include attendance at a general meeting (open houses or back-to-school nights), a scheduled meeting with a teacher (parent-teacher conference), a school event (sports or sciencefair), or acting as a volunteer or committee member [Condition of Education,2000].

Literacy and Crime <top of page>

  • There is a direct link between literacy skill level and youth and adult crime and incarceration. 95.3% of DOC inmates function at the lowest levels in math skills, and 69.42% perform at the lowest levels in reading skills—more than triple the rate of the general population [OCCS, PolicyInitiative].
  • 75% of the nation’s prison inmates do not have a high school diploma [Ohio Literacy Resource Center—http://literacy.kent.edu/Oasis/Pubs/econlit.htm]. At 939,622.5 this number is greater than the population of Montana (882,779according to Census 2000--http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/2khome.htm).
  • Among 1996 jailed inmates, 13.1% of them had less than an 8th grade education[U.S. Department of Justice, 1998].
  • Approximately 9.1% of inmates reported having a learning disability. [Ibid.]
  • Seven in 10 prisoners preformed in the lowest two literacy levels [TheState of Literacy in America (1998) 5].

Literacy and Age <top of page>

  • About 30% of Oregonians over 60 years of age are under educated; twice the rate of the average population .
  • 18.52% of Oregon’s total population age 25+, and 19.17% of those over 18 are under educated [1990 US Census--http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/datamap/state?41](The under educated are those who have not received a high school diploma or its equivalent).

Literacy and Race <top of page>

  • On the national level, white children were more likely to have been read to in the past week (about 90%) than African-American children (75%) and Hispanic children (60%) [U.S. Department of Education, Condition of Education,1999].
  • 12% of the under educated are not primary English speakers . At 4,933,824 this number is greater than the population of Arizona (4,778,332according to Census 2000--http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/2khome.htm).
  • Minority populations, especially Hispanics, are at a much higher risk of having low literacy skills [Adult Literacy in America].
  • Oregon has the fifth fastest growing immigrant population in the United States [Immigration & Naturalization Services].
  • In 1998, over 50,000 Oregonians spoke English poorly if at all [Census Bureau and Center for Population Research & Census]. Only eight Oregon cities have populations this great .
  • The most common native languages of foreign-born Oregonians are: Spanish (43.4%), German (10%), French (5.6%), Chinese (5.3%), Vietnamese (3.9%),Japanese (3.5%), Korean (2.9%), Russian (2.8%), Tagalog (1.8%), and Italian (1.6%) [Census Bureau].
  • 72% of Oregon’s foreign born population live in just four counties--Multnomah (31.4%), Washington (17.4%), Marion (10.8%), Clackamas (8.7%), and Jackson (4.0%) counties [Government Information Sharing Project].
  • The percentage of adults born in other countries is 18% for the western region of the U.S. [Adult Literacy in America (1993) 48].
  • Oregon is 86.6% white. The United States on average is 75.1% white [http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/41000.html].

Literacy in America <top of page>

  • More than 20% of adults (1 in 5) read at or below a fifth-grade level [NIFL--http://www.nifl.gov/nifl/facts/facts_overview.html]. At 41,115,200 this number is greater than the population of Spain (39,167,744 according to The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2000).
  • It is estimated that limited literacy skills cost business and tax payers $20 billion in lost wages, profits, and productivity annually [Ohio Literacy Resource Center--http://literacy.kent.edu/Oasis/Pubs/econlit.htm].
  • 44% of all Americans adults do not read one book in the course of a year.[U.S. Department of Education--http://www.main.nc.us/literacy/statistics.html]. At 90,453,440 this is greater than the population of Germany (82,087,361 according to The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2000).
  • In 1985, Proctor & Gamble, Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds/Nabiscoeach spent more on advertising than the U.S. government spent on adult education [World Almanac, 1988--http://www.main.nc.us/literacy/statistics.html].
  • The average kindergarten student has seen more than 5,000 hours of television, having spent more time in front of the TV than it takes to earn a bachelor’sdegree [U.S. Department of Education--http://www.main.nc.us/literacy/statistics.html].
  • 465,941 Oregonians are at the lowest level of literacy [22% of 2,117,914, which the 1990 census gives as Oregon's population for those ages and 18 and older--http://homer.ssd.census.gov/cdrom/lookup/996118772], but less than 10% of those who need services are enrolled in literacy programs [33,548 adults were enrolled in Oregon's literacy programs, according to the Oregon Community College 1997-98 Profile]. The number of Oregonians at the lowest literacy level is greater than the entire population of Portland (460,997 according to www.bestplaces.net).
  • Oregon’s ballot measures are at a 12th grade reading level; one in five Oregonians would have difficulty understanding them [CASAS and Online Voter’sGuide].
  • Oregonian news stories have a median reading level of 11th grade [based on analysis of ten stories chosen from front pages of sections].
  • 38% (nearly 2 out of 5) of Oregon adults are at Level 1 or 2 [Portland State University--http://www.casas.org/lit/litcode/Detail.CFM?census__AREAID=38].
  • 15% of Multnomah County’s adults perform at Level 1. Clackamas and Washington Counties share the lowest percentage (11%). Malheur County has the highest rate at 20% [The State of Literacy in America (1998)].
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