Left Behind: DC's Literacy Divide


For Immediate Release

May 13, 2020

New data reveals even lower math and reading literacy rates for DC adults living in poverty and on the front lines of COVID-19 pandemic

Washington, DC – The National Center for Education Statistics released new data revealing that one in four DC adults struggles with basic reading, and one in three adults cannot do basic math. While DC has the highest levels of education in the nation, the opportunities and income benefits are not accessible to those who lack basic skills, which contributes to the fact that 17.4% of DC adults are living in poverty. The estimates were based on data collected by the US Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and data from the American Community Survey.

WLC President Jimmie Williams stated, “This new data reveals alarming statistics about DC residents, and at the worst possible time. In our 57 years of helping adults who face the most difficult day-to-day challenges, we have never encountered anything like the COVID-19 pandemic. I would hope that the DC Council takes a long view as they put forward their budget for next year. I’m afraid that unless we think strategically about supporting our most vulnerable residents with very basic education, they will be worse off after this crisis has passed.”

The Washington Literacy Center (WLC) has long been one of the primary nonprofits in DC that provides basic reading and math education for adults with learning disabilities and other barriers. Almost 95% of WLC’s students and recipients of our services live in poverty due to their lack of basic education. However, following the 20-month program, at a cost of $8,542 per student, many are able to secure better jobs or continue their education due to their newfound ability to read and do basic math.

Mr. Williams continued, “Despite our efforts to ensure the continued education and safety of our students at this time, I’m very concerned that too many are still not equipped to take advantage of online learning since many of our current students don’t have home computers, tablets or internet access. I’m also concerned that there are many other potential students who are not being served. I know we have at least 300 people on our waiting list who could benefit from expanded support. Right now, we need support.”

For interview requests with Mr. Williams, WLC instructors or students, please contact: Annette Larkin, annette@washlit.org or 703.772.6423

WLC would like to thank Margaret Becker Patterson, PhD from Research Allies for Lifelong Learning for compiling the statistics.

About The Washington Literacy Center

The Washington Literacy Center (WLC) has been helping DC residents with the greatest barriers and fewest resources learn to read since 1963. Starting off as an all-volunteer initiative, the WLC has grown into a dynamic nonprofit focused on teaching skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century. We help students overcome some of the most difficult challenges including dyslexia, reading, math, and other barriers to education. We began more than 50 years ago with a mission: to raise the literacy level of adults in Washington, D.C., so they may function on the job, in the family and in society.

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