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Possibility or Necessity? U.S. Adults' Numeracy Skills and Employment

Sat, April 14, 10:35am to 12:05pm, New York Marriott Marquis, Floor: Fourth Floor, Brecht


The primary objective of this study is to examine associations between U.S. adults’ employment status and their information processing skills. Further, we sought to determine if the relationship between numeracy skill proficiency and employment status for U.S. adults varies by self-reported use of numeracy skills in everyday life.

Perspectives/Theoretical Framework
Employment status is a predictive indicator of social and economic outcomes for individuals (Aaronson, Mazumder, & Schechter, 2010; Linn, Sandifer, & Stein, 1985). Government/intergovernmental research organizations, policy makers, and adult education researchers have long touted educational attainment as predictive and protective of employment status (Hanushek, Schwerdt, Woessmann, & Zhang, 2017; Parsons, & Bynner, 1997). Fewer studies have explored how academic proficiencies and self-reported skill use are associated with employment status in combination with other factors (Grotluschen, Mallows, Reder, Sabatini, 2016; OECD, 2016). The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) makes possible a move beyond proxy measures for skill proficiencies and skill practices to better understand how U.S. residents leverage their skills to achieve their goals and potential.

Data and Methods
We used the 2012/14 U.S. PIAAC data, with particular interest in the oversampled population of unemployed adults aged 16-65. Descriptive statistics for all variables as well as a series of multinomial logistic regression models were run utilizing numeracy, literacy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE) as the independent variables and employment status/work history as the dependent variable. Finally, a model isolating numeracy skills, Employment Status, and all control variables, inclusive of the seven numeracy skill use in everyday life variables and interaction effects across numeracy skill and numeracy skill use, was run.

After introducing the delineated control variables, the relationships between literacy and numeracy were still significant for some categories of Employment Status; however, the relationship between PS-TRE and Employment Status was no longer significant in any category. Interestingly, none of the skill proficiencies significantly predict the (un)employment category of Left Paid Work Less Than 12 Months Ago when control variables are added into the models. In other words, the literacy and numeracy skill proficiencies are predictive of the categories of never having worked and long-term unemployment but do not predict short-term unemployment. Additionally, numeracy is more related to employment status than the other information processing skills. Finally, similar to the work of Desjardins & Rubenson (2011), we found that some increased everyday life numeracy information-processing practices and numeracy information-processing proficiencies lead to improved economic outcomes.

Conclusion and Significance
These results have large implications or workforce development and adult education policy and program design/delivery. For example, policy and programs may create or incentivize the creation of targeted interventions leveraging the “employment privileged skill” of numeracy to insulate populations more vulnerable to unemployment. Moreover, understanding how skill use further impacts our conceptualization of the relationship between skills and employment outcomes is necessary. Programs may emphasize the affordances of increasing skill use in particular numeracy skill practices, like using reading charts of graphs, within programs to increase participants’ chances of landing or retaining a job.


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