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NM Literacy Overview


20% of New Mexicans age 16 and older have literacy skills at level 1, the lowest level on a scale of 1 to 5.  Each literacy level is associated with a specific set of skills that are generally accepted as necessary for full participation in society.   Individuals at level 1, for example,  have difficulty locating simple information in a news article or applying basic math to determine the total on a sales receipt.

Nationally, level 1 estimates range from a low of 11% in Alaska, Utah, and Wyoming to a high of 37% in the District of Columbia.  The national average for individuals at level 1 or below is 21%.  Within New Mexico, level 1 estimates range from a low of 5% in Los Alamos County to a high of 35% in Luna County.

In terms of literacy level 2, 46% of New Mexico’s population is at this level or below.   As a benchmark in practical terms, nearly two-thirds (64%) of all jobs today require literacy skills beyond level 2, while only 12% require skills at level 1 and 24% at level 2, according to a study by the Milken Institute.

Figures for literacy levels are based on estimates using 1990 census data and results from the National Adult Literacy Survey reported in The State of Literacy in America (National Institute for Literacy, 1998).  Literacy levels for all states, including a breakout by counties with populations of 5,000 or greater, can be found at

Based on a statewide population of 1,954,599 and a 46% functionally illiterate population, it is estimated that 899,115 adults are in need of literacy services. In four New Mexico counties, the percentage of adults lacking a high school education exceeds 45% (Mora, Luna, McKinley, and Guadalupe counties). Statewide, 25% of adults age 21 and older and 18.5% of adults age 25 and older lack a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Between 3,500-4,500 students are served by volunteer-based literacy programs in a given year.  For a listing of these programs, see the New Mexico Literacy Services.



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