Who Are The Low-Skilled Adults?

About one in six ages 16-65​


One-third are aged less than 35


Two-thirds of young (16-24) low-skilled adults are men


One-third are immigrants


Nearly three-fourths are black or Hispanic


Nearly two-thirds work, but earn comparatively low wages


Who Would Benefit From Higher Skills?

Individuals and Families

  • The economic payoff to individuals for higher skills is greater in the United States than in almost any other industrialized country.
  • Increasing parents’ skills can improve education outcomes for their children.
  • Higher-skilled adults are healthier, with implications for their ability to work, parent, and participate in their communities.

Business and Industry

  • Increasing adult skills increases productivity.
  • Because higher-skilled workers are also likely to be healthier, helping adults improve their skills indirectly raises productivity.
  • Increasing skills expands access to employment and better-paying jobs, creating new customers for products and services.


  • Low-skilled Americans are motivated to get ahead.
  • Raising adult skills could lift community educational attainment for the next generation as well.
  • States with better-educated workforces have higher economic growth and higher wages.
  • Raising adult skills could potentially save communities substantial amounts in healthcare costs.
  • Integrating immigrants may benefit communities economically.
  • Raising adult skills could result in more civic engagement in communities.


U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. (2015, February). Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Author.