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New Research from IWPR Finds Low Literacy Hurts Women More Than Men

By Kevin Miller

In an analysis of data from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy that was recently published, IWPR found that women earn less than men regardless of literacy level, but that women with low literacy levels are particularly likely to have low earnings relative to men. Higher literacy levels are associated with higher earnings for both men and women, but the “jump” in earnings from low to high literacy is especially noticeable for women at earnings levels that can sustain women and their families.

These findings are consistent with the phenomenon that women need to do more to reach the earnings of men. The gender wage gap remains substantial after decades of measurement, occurs both between and within occupations, and—we now know—exists regardless of men and women’s degree of literacy. In order for women to earn the same amount as men, they must obtain more education and develop more skills than those possessed by men. Low literacy—which occurs at similar rates among women and men—is a barrier to effective education and training that can help low-income individuals obtain jobs that allow for family economic security.

Programs that help women (and men) improve their literacy, obtain job training, and get degrees are key elements in the effort to help low-income Americans get better jobs. Adult and basic education programs, bridge programs that connect teens and adults to college, workforce training programs, and supports for nontraditional students enrolled in colleges are needed to help hard-working Americans get higher-paying jobs. Many of these programs are under threat of budget cuts. Cuts in education and training are short-sighted cost-saving measures that reduce workforce readiness while also threatening one of the few pathways out of poverty for millions of Americans with limited literacy.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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