Driving Economic and Social Mobility via Literacy in Charleston, South Carolina

By Andri Moloney-Kitts and Sarah Cacicio

What would it take to drive economic and social mobility in the Lowcountry region of Charleston, South Carolina? Research shows that improving adult literacy skills is key. Literacy is now linked to sustained income growth, better healthcare access, improved job prospects for justice-involved and returning citizens, and stronger language and literacy skills among children. 

The Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (ALL IN) is working to bring this research to life by co-designing a model for increasing adult literacy access in the Lowcountry. As part of our broader efforts to implement the 2021 National Action Plan for Adult Literacy, members of the ALL IN Coordinating Council, in collaboration with the local organization Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, have begun to convene and work with over 50 key stakeholders across the region to explore opportunities for boosting adult literacy access and uptake in the region. These stakeholders include education institutions, workforce training institutions, libraries, employers, government leaders, law enforcement, corrections, and community-based organizations.

In September 2023, ALL IN convened national and local stakeholders at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce to discuss collectively increasing access to adult and family literacy in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Why Start in the South Carolina Lowcountry?

A 2020 Gallup study commissioned by the Barbara Bush Foundation (BBF) revealed that improving adult literacy skills could boost our national GDP by $2.2 trillion annually and could double the annual income of those most in need. Several factors impact adult literacy across communities, including health, income, and language. If states are ranked by their potential gains as a share of the GDP, several of the states that stand to gain the most from improved literacy rates are in the South, including South Carolina, which has an adult literacy rate of approximately 22.4%. Interventions will be designed to help improve the overall South Carolina labor force participation rate, which is among the lowest in the nation. According to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, Black residents of South Carolina indicated that lack of training remains a significant barrier to getting a job.


Members of the ALL IN Coordinating Council visited Charleston to meet with local leaders in adult education, workforce development, and corrections, including American Library Association, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE), Jobs for the Future, National Center for Families Learning, ProLiteracy, Cure National, TESOL International Association, and World Education.

Next Steps

In South Carolina, our goal is to raise awareness at the national level—at the grasstops—in service and support of the grassroots programs and organizations who are supporting learners directly. National members of ALL IN are committed to building local partnerships throughout Charleston and the coastal region, with organizations such as the Trident Literacy Association, Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, the Charleston County Public Library, the Sheriff’s Office of Charleston County, and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, among many others, to leverage and support an existing continuum of services for adults and families. For example, Sheriff Graziano and her team at the local Detention Center are now working to co-design a mentoring program for incarcerated adult learners through the Petey Greene Program, facilitated by ALL IN Coordinating Council members from Cure National and COABE. Sheriff Graziano is also connecting to our partners at Jobs for the Future to engage with their Center for Justice and Economic Advancement.​​

We are currently seeking funding to:

• replicate findings of the national economic impact study at a local level to quantify how literacy interventions can generate new economic activity in terms of total output, jobs, and income creation, as well as higher rates of long-term economic growth for the Lowcountry region.

• identify gaps in services and resources in order to co-design targeted solutions, engaging adult learners as leaders in the process.

• strengthen adult literacy skills learning and verification using digital tools and technology. 

Investing in adult literacy skills in the South Carolina Lowcountry will strengthen local families, health, safety, civic engagement, and workforce development. This model will focus on increasing access to multigenerational services, long-term economic and educational pathways, and fostering an enabling environment that is driven by equity. Our goal is to produce a research-based model for other U.S. regions in need of adult literacy services to replicate.


About ALL IN 

The Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (ALL IN) is a collective impact initiative formed by thought leaders across the adult learning ecosystem with generous support from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. ALL IN brings leaders together across sectors to implement the first-ever National Action Plan for Adult Literacy (NAP). We are working to transform the conversation about literacy, reduce the stigma associated with meeting literacy needs, and support millions of adults in the United States in achieving greater economic, health, education, and life outcomes over the next five years – and for generations to come. 

The Coordinating Council includes executives from 14 of the leading national organizations in the field of adult literacy and workforce development, including the American Library Association, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE), the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the Houston Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy, Jobs for the Future, the National Association of State Directors of Adult Education, the National Center for Families Learning, the National Coalition for Literacy, ProLiteracy, Cure National, TESOL International Association, VALUEUSA, and World Education. To learn more about ALL IN’s member organizations and activities, subscribe to our newsletter here.


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