New Report Finds More Older Americans Seeking Literacy/Basic Ed Programs

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The percentage of adults 55 and older in adult literacy/basic education programs has doubled since the economic downturn in 2008, says a new report from ProLiteracy and Senior Service America.

The percentage of older adults (55+) enrolled in adult literacy and basic education programs has doubled since the economic downturn began in 2008, says a new report from ProLiteracy and Senior Service America.

ProLiteracy surveyed 950 member programs serving some 286,000 students on the participation of students aged 55 and older. Results showed that in the 2009-10 program year, individuals in this age group made up 12 percent of the student body of responding programs, a significant increase. Older adults made up just 6 percent of the students enrolled in adult literacy programs in program years 2006-07 and 2007-08, and 6.5 percent in program year 2008-09.

The survey also found that more than 25 percent of the older adults receiving literacy and basic education instruction are unemployed and seeking work.

Of the adults over age 55 who left programs at the end of the 2009-10 program year, close to 1,400 had either found employment, found a better job or received a promotion, or reported that they had increased their employability skills.

“By 2030, nearly 30 percent of the American population will be age 55 or older—it is, in fact, the fastest growing population in the U.S., and it makes up 20 percent of our workforce,” says ProLiteracy President and CEO David C. Harvey. “Yet more than 15 percent of adults over 55 and 20.5 percent of adults over age 65 have no high school diploma or GED. An alarming number of adults in this age demographic—roughly 25 percent—have severely limited reading skills.”

Additional research is required, but the initial findings seem to indicate that the economic downturn has pushed older adults back into the workforce and many of them are looking to improve their literacy and English skills to help them be more employable.

ProLiteracy is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing adult literacy and basic education in the nation. Senior Service America (SSAI), a nonprofit organization that provides community service and employment training opportunities for low-income older workers, contracted with ProLiteracy to conduct the research after SSAI noticed an increase in the number of older Americans needing to return to the workforce due to the downturn in the economy. SSAI also noted that many of these adults required education programs to gain skills needed to find employment in the resulting “new” economy.


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