More than half of working age Philadelphians lack literacy skills

When I think about The Perfect Labor Storm, the following gets my attention.

More than half (52.2 percent) of working-age Philadelphians (550,000 adults) lack necessary work force literacy skills, which means they struggle to follow written instructions or complete a form, such as a job application. More than 202,000 of the city’s adults have failed to obtain a high school diploma.

Statewide the number is still a staggering 37.9 percent, at a time when some level of post-secondary education is not an option but a requirement for even entry-level jobs.

Adults that fall below the literacy standard can only qualify for a third of the jobs in the current economy, which is roughly 211,000 jobs…and that’s just in Philadelphia. By 2030, another 50,000 in the city will not have the basic literacy skills to compete for jobs in the economy unless the problem is addressed now, according to the Help Wanted report released by the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board.

The irony of this report is that I’m currently writing an article for the August 2009 edition of Business2Business magazine on the gap between workforce development and education.  According to another just released report on ‘Working Learners’ (, there are 75 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64, or 60 percent of our workforce, who still have no postsecondary credentials and who are not currently enrolled in a course of education. This comes at a time when nearly half of all new jobs created by 2016 will require postsecondary credentials.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring postsecondary education will grow by 17 percent – nearly double the rate of 8.8 percent for jobs that do not require such a credential.

Unfortunately Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are not the exceptions but the rule.  This crisis is repeated across dozens of states and thousands of cities.  The U.S. graduation is hovering around 70 percent, meaning only 7 out of every 10 students who start 9th grade graduate from high school.  And in nearly 2,000 “dropout factories” nationwide, more high school students dropout than graduate.

Am I the only person questioning where are we allocating billions of dollars for job creation when more than 60 percent of our workforce lacks postsecondary credentials? What kind of jobs is the government intent on creating?  How is our stimulus and workforce development dollars going to help create jobs that can keep the U.S. competitive when more than half the working population lacks basic literacy skills?



Ira S Wolfe


  1. Larry Sanguinetti July 1, 2009 at 1:03 pm -

    Point of clarification: The date in the quote, “…nearly half of all new jobs created by 2106 will require postsecondary credentials.” should actually be 2016. Much more reliable to forecast something like workforce issues out 7 years, rather than 97. With this condensed timeframe, however, the point is much stronger and truly emphasizes the significant need for communities to work together to resolve what may prove to be a domestic catastrophy if left unchecked.