Appropriate literacy levels are crucial for both men and women seeking education and employment opportunities, but low literacy skills disproportionally hurt women’s chances of earning a sustaining wage. IWPR analysis of National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) data reveals that men earn more than women regardless of literacy level. Women with low literacy skills report very low earnings overall and substantially lower earnings than those among comparable men (Figure 1). Although women with higher literacy skills are much more likely than women with low literacy to earn sustaining wages, their earnings are still lower on average than those of men. In other words, women need higher levels of literacy than men to earn wages that are comparable with men’s.
Limited literacy remains a significant issue for both men and women in the United States: 36.4 percent of men and 33.3 percent of women are in the low literacy category (Figure 3). These data indicate that programs that work to improve literacy remain critical. Adult basic education, remedial and bridge programs, and other methods that help people move beyond low literacy are important for national workforce readiness, as well as for individuals’ ability to get and keep jobs that pay sustaining wages.
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