9 Key Facts About the State of Literacy in NYC

Literacy – the ability to read and write effectively – is one of the most critical components of individual and community health and economic well-being. And with a city as large and diverse as New York City, some of the very things that make it so wonderful also increase the effects of illiteracy in the community. Recent immigrants are more likely to have literacy issues, as are people living in poverty. And like poverty, literacy tends to be cyclical – illiterate adults are more likely to have children with literacy challenges.

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Before identifying local organizations working to help end illiteracy and how you can get involved, let’s first take a look at some of the statistics that paint a picture about the state of literacy in New York City today.

NYC Literacy Facts To Know

1. According to the Literacy New York, 45% of the U.S. population lacks the literacy skills to participate fully in family, work, and community.¹ 

2. In New York State, an estimated 3.4 million adults are functionally illiterate, lack a high school diploma, or cannot speak English.²

3. In Manhattan, 25% of adults lack basic prose literacy skills, in Brooklyn, 37%, and in the Bronx, that number rises to 41%.³

4. Adult illiteracy costs taxpayers an estimated $224 billion per year.⁴

5. 85% of delinquent children and 75% of adult prison inmates are illiterate.⁴

6. Over $230 billion per year in health care costs is attributed to illiteracy, which results in the inability to understand health care options or access appropriate care.⁵

7. 72% of children whose parents have literacy issues are in the lowest reading levels themselves.⁵

8. 43% of adults with the lowest literacy levels live in poverty, and 70% are on welfare.⁵

9. Less than 10% of New York residents who want to access literacy programs are receiving help.¹


Supporting literacy initiatives makes the community stronger, helping people to break multi-generational cycles of illiteracy and poverty. Literacy programs improve employment and earnings potential for community members and benefit future generations.

Federal and state funding for literacy programs declined sharply over the 2001-2012 period, and programs are at further risk of cuts as budgets continue to shrink. As a result, literacy programs are becoming more reliant on the efforts of volunteers to meet the needs of the community.

Support These Organizations Working to Improve Literacy in NYC

Literacy Partners

Literacy Partners provides free adult education programs to strengthen low-income families in New York, including literacy and language improvement and child development and parenting classes. This intergenerational approach helps families to improve literacy skills while modeling learning behavior for their children, helping to break the cycles of illiteracy and poverty. 

Volunteers can facilitate an English conversation group in their neighborhood, host a special event, work in the Literacy Partners office, or teach a fellow New Yorker how to read. Make a difference in the lives of those around you and volunteer with Literacy Partners today.

--> Help Students Improve Their Literacy Skills.


Reading Partners

Volunteers with Reading Partners may commit to as little as an hour per week, and make a significant difference to the lives of children in New York. Reading Partners focuses on the literacy skills of early learners, partnering with underserved schools and communities to provide mentorship and support to individual children. The organization helps to build literacy skills and confidence, which are foundational to educational success.

--> Help Students Become More Confident Readers.


Girls Write Now

Apply to be a mentor with Girls Write Now, and help transform the life of a young woman in NYC. Girls Write Now is the first program to offer writing and mentoring exclusively for girls, pairing underserved girls with professional writers to improve literacy and learn to express themselves to their best potential.

--> Become a Mentor.


There are many New Yorkers who need and want literacy support but are unable to get the help they need. Volunteer in NYC with a literacy outreach program to help stretch those programs to accommodate more people. By helping to improve the literacy skills of people in your community, you can help enhance the community as a whole. 


Our Sources:
¹ https://www.literacynewyork.org/literacy-facts
² https://www.literacynewyork.org/about-us
³ https://nces.ed.gov/naal/estimates/StateEstimates.aspx
⁴ https://www.ccf.ny.gov/files/4113/8073/9522/OverviewFamLit.pdf
⁵ https://proliteracy.org/Adult-Literacy-Facts

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