Survey of Adult Skills in U.S.

Career College Central Summary:

  • The weaknesses in basic skills occur despite a relatively high level of education. Among comparison countries the U.S. had one of the smallest proportions of adults with less than high school education, and one of the largest with more than high school.
  • There are few signs of improvement. Today, adults in the U.S. have similar or weaker literacy skills to their counterparts in the mid-90s, and the average basic skills of young adults are not very different from older persons.
  • The performance of the initial schooling system is closely linked to adult skills and the US results from the international PISA assessment of the basic skills of 15-year-olds are consistent with the US Survey results. Between 2000 and 2009, 15-year-old students in the U.S. tended to score below the cross country average in the PISA assessment of both literacy and numeracy. Similarly, young adults now score below average in the Survey of Adult Skills.
  • Socio-economic economic background has a stronger influence on adult basic skills in the U.S. than in other countries. More positively, among young US adults the link between socio-economic background and skills is much weaker.
  • Migration status and ethnicity remain important. One-third of the low-skilled are immigrants. 35% of black and 43% of Hispanic adults have low literacy skills, compared with only 10% of whites. Racial differences in skills remain even among adults with similar levels of education.

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