Adult Literacy

If you can read this..

If you can read this, you can fill out an application, write a check, shop for groceries, read to a child, and understand the bus schedule. What if you couldn’t? On top of that, what would happen if you couldn’t speak English? Renting an apartment and going to the doctor would become terrifying and overwhelming.

If you can read this, educate yourself about those who can’t and how you can help. Give back to the community by helping the millions of functionally illiterate adults in the US – and the thousands in Middle Tennessee – learn to read. Here is some motivation to get your hands on a book or a flash card and help out.


The Statistics

  • 18 million adults in the United States do not read well enough to earn a living wage.
  • In the U.S., 30 million people over age 16 — 14% of the country’s adult population — do not read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level or to fill out a job application.
  • Over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.
  • Low literacy results in crime, low productivity in the workforce, and loss of tax revenue.  In sum, it costs the United States at least $225 billion each year.
  • 44 million adults in the United States are unable to even read a simple story to a child.
  • 1 out of 5 Nashville adults is functionally illiterate.


Effects on Employment

“The push to return unemployed workers to the nation's payrolls is hamstrung by a decades-old legacy of poor schooling that has left tens of millions of Americans without the basic reading or math skills necessary for today's jobs,” writes Christopher Connell in a 2010 Washington Post article (linked below). "It's a crisis in the U.S. workforce," said Cheryl King, head of the National Commission on Adult Literacy. According to the Commission, the country needs to enroll five times as many adults in education and job-training classes as the current capacity of the nation’s nonprofit and community organizations can meet. While 30 million Americans lack basic literacy skills, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says three times that number of people are actually in need of more schooling and training – including dropouts, unemployed individuals, immigrants with little English, and workers in declining industries.


Take Action

Click the View Organizations button on this Issue Overview to find a list of organizations that could benefit from your donations.

What can your dollars do?

  • $10 can provide flash cards or other additional materials for students.
  • $25 can provide a book and tutor manual.
  • $50 can provide books for a learner and tutor for a year.
  • $150 can provide new software for the computer lab.
  • $300 can provide books for a class of twenty learners.
  • $500 can cover the costs of a volunteer training course.

Short on cash? Money isn't the only way to be involved! There are many ways to help:

  • Find out more about becoming a volunteer by researching organizations on
  • Recommend a friend or family member who might be interested in volunteering.
  • Refer an adult who might need these services.


Additional Resources

Nashville Adult Literacy Council


Center For Literacy Studies (CLS): Located at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the Center focuses on adult literacy research, professional development for adult educators, and building a system for sharing the knowledge of the field.

Literacy Mid-South: The Memphis Literacy Council and Mid South Reads joined forces and have merged into this new organization. Literacy Mid-South is a coalition of Memphis-area stakeholders in adult and children's literacy issues. They produce and/or promote a variety of reading-related activities in a six-county area.

State of Tennessee Division of Adult Education: Adult Education operates under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The Division operates Adult Education programs in every county in partnership with local entities such as school systems or community colleges.

Tennessee Association for Adult and Community Education (TAACE): TAACE promotes adult education in Tennessee in a variety of ways, including representing and communicating the needs of its members to state elected officials and citizens.