Points of View

Why Adult Literacy and Basic Education are Barriers to Employment

Sam Stebbins

Recently on the blog, we’ve discussed several barriers to gaining postsecondary education or credentials, including childcare concerns or criminal histories. Yet another barrier that many may overlook is adult illiteracy and the lack of a basic education.


While the number of adults in West Michigan with some level of post-secondary education is growing, around 3.6% have less than a 9th grade education and 10.3%, or 37,000 individuals, have less than a high school diploma. Nationally, about 36 million adults in the US have low basic literacy and numeracy skills.


Lacking a basic education negatively effects the ability to find gainful employment and prevents adults from beginning higher education programs. Additionally, poor literacy skills contribute to difficulty navigating the healthcare, education, and social welfare systems, contributes to stress in the household, and hinders the academic performance of children. In fact, children whose parents have low literacy skills have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels in school.


How can employers help increase adult basic education and literacy?

Employers who find they already employ those with low education or literacy levels can help to educate their workforce by providing assessments and training in the workplace. Time restraints or conflicts prevent many adults from seeking a basic education when they must earn an income to support themselves or their families. Some employers have seen success from providing literacy training in the workplace. Encouraging employees to become a literacy tutor can help to support adults with low literacy skills in both the workplace and community.


Business and community leaders can also help by advocating for state investment in adult basic education and supporting local literacy programs. Because these issues directly impact the workforce, employers should advocate for investment in increasing the education of potential talent pools.


Ultimately, increasing education levels among West Michigan’s adults is a complex issue that requires collaboration between employers, educational institutions, and community-based organizations. Learn more from our one-pager here.

What do you think could help improve basic education and adult literacy in West Michigan? What is already being done in your workplace or community? Let us know on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.