EPI's weekly illustration of education data trends — September 27, 2018

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Literacy of US Adults (ages 16-65), 2012/14


The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) measures skills in literacy and numeracy. The chart below focuses on the literacy of US adults who are between the ages of 16 and 65 years of age. The scale runs from 0 to 500 and the average adult literacy score is 272 (denoted by the red line in the graphic below). This chart and analysis is not to discuss whether the average literacy is too low or just right. It does provide a comparison point, however.

There are four categories in this analysis and all have relative levels of interest. Overall,adults with higher levels of education are more literate. As well, adults whose parents went to college had higher levels of literacy. Neither of these two findings is surprising. Of interest herein is the variance in literacy score by age and race/ethnic group. With regard to the former, and with the exception of the youngest grouping, older groups had lower literacy scores than younger groups. Why is this? Is it because a higher percentage of younger groups have more postsecondary education, which we know is associated with higher literacy rates? Is it because we actually do a better job for more students in K12 than older cohorts? Both are likely. Why the youngest group dips lower is less understood, but one could surmise that the relatively lower level of education could impact that group's average literacy score. As well, the variance of Black and Hispanic adults compared to White adults continues to be disappointing with a 40 to 50 point gap. These data clearly illustrate that there remain legitimate, entrenched, and systematic barriers that deny people of color access to education and other activities and situations that impact literacy scales.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014.



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