A student completes a worksheet during a one-on-one tutoring session through Literacy Mid-South. Applicants often face a monthslong waitlist. Credit:Kathleen Flynn / ProPublica

They never got the help they needed with learning disabilities. Or they came to this country without the ability to read English. Or they graduated from schools that failed to teach them the most crucial skills.

For a number of sometimes overlapping reasons, 48 million American adults struggle to read basic English, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That may leave them unable to find and keep a decent job, navigate the signage on city streets, follow medical instructions and vote. They’re vulnerable to scams and face stigma and shame.

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The main remedy available is adult education: free classes where they can improve their reading and earn a high school credential.

But the infrastructure for adult education is profoundly inadequate, a ProPublica investigation found — and, as the nation’s persistently low literacy rates reveal, the government’s efforts haven’t done enough […]

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