U.S. Lags in Key Skills; New Adult Literacy Resources Available

By Evelyn Ganzglass

Findings from a 2012 international study have major implications for growing inequality in the United States. The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) study of key cognitive and workplace skills needed for successful participation in 21st century society and the global economy found that the U.S. population ranks below international averages in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. U.S. minorities are disproportionately represented in the very large low-skilled population, with immigrants lagging behind U.S.-born adults, and those adults from low-educated families ten times as likely to have low skills. Proficiency in these key skill areas is linked to higher earnings, and literacy and numeracy are usually prerequisites for more specific occupational training that can provide access to higher-paid jobs. This study shows, once again, how minorities and immigrants are affected by inequality in this country.

To help address the needs of low-skilled adults, PIAAC has created a website to provide access to a wide variety of U.S. and international materials, including a newly released PIAAC Outreach Toolkit, which includes videos, PowerPoint decks and handouts that can be used to build awareness about the study’s results and why they matter. In the next few weeks, summaries of research papers delivered at the recent Taking the Next Steps with PIAAC: A Research to Action Conference will be posted on the PIAAC Gateway website together with PowerPoint presentations and videos of all the presentations.  Among the presentations will be one from CLASP’s Evelyn Ganzglass who discussed the implications of the low literacy, numeracy and problem solving abilities of the U.S. population for poverty alleviation efforts, especially related to workforce development, adult education and postsecondary education policy. In addition, she addressed the complicated relationship between the different kinds of labor market and education credentials individuals hold, individuals’ cognitive skills as measured in the PIAAC assessment, and people’s non-cognitive skills, knowledge, and abilities.