45 US Literacy Statistics Exposed

Uncover shocking US literacy statistics and the economic impact of low literacy. Explore global rates and initiatives for addressing the literacy gap.

Understanding Literacy Statistics

To comprehend the significance of literacy statistics, it's crucial to understand the importance of literacy itself and its definition.

The Importance of Literacy

Literacy plays a fundamental role in the personal, social, and economic development of individuals and societies. It empowers people to participate fully in their communities, make informed decisions, and access opportunities for personal growth and success. Literacy is not merely about reading and writing; it encompasses critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills. It is the foundation for lifelong learning and a key factor in promoting social equality and economic advancement.

Top 10 Key US Literacy Statistics

  1. 14% of adults in the US can't read.
  2. 21% of adults in the US read below a 5th-grade level.
  3. 19% of high school graduates in the US can't read.
  4. 85% of juveniles in the US court system are functionally illiterate.
  5. 70% of inmates in the US prison system can't read above a 4th-grade level.
  6. 45 million adults in the US are functionally illiterate.
  7. 50% of adults in the US can't read a book written at an eighth-grade level.
  8. 75% of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest two levels of literacy.
  9. 43% of adults with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty.
  10. 3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform at the lowest two levels of literacy.

Literacy Statistics in the United States

Examining the literacy landscape in the United States reveals important insights into the state of literacy skills among adults. This section will explore adult literacy rates, the prevalence of low literacy skills, and the disparities that exist in literacy levels.

Source: https://www.zippia.com/

Adult Literacy Rates

The American Psychological Association reports that in the United States, 21% of adults read below a 5th-grade level, and shockingly, 19% of high school graduates struggle with reading. The U.S. Department of Education found that only 54% of adults read at a proficient level [1]. These statistics highlight the need for improvement in adult literacy rates.

Low Literacy Skills

Approximately 43 million adults in the United States possessed low literacy skills in 2017, hindering their economic opportunities. It is concerning to note that 88% of adults with low literacy levels were in the labor force, indicating the potential impact on employability and workplace productivity. Low literacy skills among adults have been linked to adverse outcomes such as lower income, unemployment, and poor health outcomes.

Disparities in Literacy

Literacy disparities exist within the United States, with certain populations experiencing lower literacy rates compared to others. Factors such as educational attainment, socioeconomic status, and early language exposure play a role in these disparities.

To gain a better understanding of literacy rates by state in the United States, one can refer to the comprehensive list provided by Cross River Therapy. This data highlights variations in literacy levels across different regions of the country.

Addressing low literacy levels within the United States requires a multi-faceted approach. By implementing effective literacy programs and initiatives, promoting the importance of adult education, and working towards closing the literacy gap, progress can be made in improving literacy rates and empowering individuals with vital skills for success in various aspects of life.

Reading Habits of Americans

  • 6 out of 10 households do not buy a single book in a year.
  • 44% of American adults do not read a book in a year.

Functional Illiteracy

  • 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth-grade level.
  • 45 million adults are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th-grade level.
  • 50% of the unemployed between the ages of 16 and 21 are functionally illiterate.
  • 85% of juvenile offenders have problems reading.
  • 3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform at the lowest two levels of literacy.

Education and Employment

  • 20% of Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage.
  • 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.
  • 50% of the nation's unemployed youth age 16-21 are without high school diplomas.
  • 27 million Americans are unable to read well enough to complete a job application.
Source: https://www.air.org/

Prison Population

  • 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a 4th-grade level.
  • 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
  • 60% of America's prison inmates are illiterate and 85% of juvenile offenders are functionally illiterate.

Public Perception

  • 78% of Americans believe that reading is critical to success.
  • 57% of students who drop out of high school do so because they are unable to read.
  • 75% of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest two levels of literacy.

Global Literacy Rates

Understanding literacy rates worldwide provides valuable insight into the state of literacy on a global scale. Let's explore the literacy rates worldwide and the gender disparities that exist in literacy.

Source: https://www.statista.com/

Literacy Rates Worldwide

Globally, the literacy rate for individuals aged 15 years and older is approximately 86.3% [2]. This rate represents the percentage of people in this age group who can read and write. It is an encouraging statistic that demonstrates progress in improving literacy worldwide.

Figures courtesy World Population Review

It is important to note that there are significant variations in literacy rates across different countries. Developed nations generally have adult literacy rates of 96% or higher, while the least developed countries have an average literacy rate of only 65%. These disparities highlight the need for continued efforts to promote literacy and education worldwide.

Gender Disparities in Literacy

Gender disparities persist in the realm of literacy. Approximately 781 million adults worldwide, nearly two-thirds of whom are female, lack basic reading and writing skills. This gap is more pronounced in less-developed countries, where traditional gender roles often restrict educational opportunities for women, prioritizing household responsibilities over education.

However, it is worth noting that significant progress has been made in narrowing the gender gap in literacy. In 1800, only about 4% of women globally were literate, compared to around 17% of men. By 2020, the gender gap has substantially narrowed, with over 85% of both men and women being literate. This progress reflects the efforts made to promote gender equality in education and empower women.

By examining global literacy rates and gender disparities, we gain a better understanding of the current state of literacy worldwide. While advancements have been made, it is crucial to continue working towards universal literacy and ensuring equal educational opportunities for all individuals, regardless of gender or socioeconomic background.

Source: https://www.air.org/

The Economic Impact of Low Literacy

Low literacy rates can have far-reaching economic consequences for individuals and societies. In this section, we will explore the economic costs of low literacy and the impact it has on employment and earnings.

Economic Costs of Low Literacy

According to the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), low literacy levels among U.S. adults could be costing the economy up to $2.2 trillion a year. This staggering figure, reported by Forbes, highlights the significant economic burden associated with low literacy skills.

Individuals with low literacy skills often face challenges in finding and retaining employment, which can lead to reduced productivity and earnings. The economic costs of low literacy extend beyond the individual level, impacting businesses, communities, and the overall economy. It is essential to address these issues and invest in improving literacy levels to unlock economic potential and growth.

Employment and Earnings

The impact of low literacy on employment and earnings is substantial. Adults with higher literacy skills are more likely to be employed and earn higher salaries compared to those with lower literacy skills, as highlighted by the PIAAC study [5].

Having strong literacy skills opens up a broader range of job opportunities, allowing individuals to secure higher-paying positions. Proficient reading, writing, and communication skills are highly valued by employers across various industries. Conversely, individuals with limited literacy skills may face barriers in accessing employment opportunities and may be limited to lower-skilled, lower-paying jobs.

Furthermore, literacy skills are significantly associated with labor market outcomes such as earnings and occupation, even after educational qualifications are held constant. This demonstrates the independent influence of literacy on economic success.

Investing in literacy programs and initiatives can help individuals develop the necessary skills to enhance their employability and earning potential. By improving literacy levels, individuals can expand their career prospects, contribute to economic growth, and reduce dependence on social welfare programs.

It is important to recognize that literacy skills and economic development are intertwined. Macroeconomic studies have shown a positive relationship between a country's economic development and its population's overall literacy skills. By prioritizing literacy education and supporting individuals in developing strong literacy skills, societies can create a foundation for economic prosperity and social progress.

Understanding the economic impact of low literacy underscores the importance of promoting literacy initiatives, providing access to educational opportunities, and addressing the disparities in literacy rates. By doing so, we can work towards closing the literacy gap, unlocking human potential, and fostering a thriving economy.


[1]: https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/education

[2]: https://www.crossrivertherapy.com/research/literacy-statistics

[3]: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/literacy-rate-by-country

[4]: https://ourworldindata.org/literacy