Literacy Facts

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The Challenge of Low Literacy

In our community and across our nation, low literacy skills contribute to unemployment, poverty, crime, overuse of emergency healthcare services, and other social problems. The children of people with limited literacy skills suffer from increased rates of academic and behavioral problems in school.


  • Being unable to complete a job application.
  • Being handed an inventory at work that you can’t read—and then losing your job because of it.
  • Not being able to read the instructions on your medical prescription or a Social Security form.
  • Looking into your child’s face and having to admit that you can’t read her teacher’s note.
  • Calling 911 and being unable to make yourself understood.

In Frederick County*

  • 14% of adults (25,407 people) aged 16 – 74 scored at or below Level 1. Adults at this level are at risk for having difficulties or being unable to use or comprehend print material.
  • 30% of adults (54,444 people) aged 16 – 74 scored at Level 2. Adults at this level are nearing proficiency but still struggling to perform tasks with text-based information.
  • 7% of adults (12,703 people) lack a high school diploma.
  • 16% of adults (29,036 people) speak English not well or not at all.

     (*Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies:  State and County Estimates of Adult Skills, 2017 data released 4/2020.)


In the U.S.

  • An excess of $230 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy. (American Journal of Public Health.)
  • Seventy-five percent of state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate. (U.S. Department of Justice, Rand Report.)
  • Low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment. (National Council for Adult Learning.)

Find out more about the impact of limited literacy skills from our affiliate organization, ProLiteracy.

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