US Literacy Rates 2024: Statistics and Trends

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Being literate involves much more than just being able to read and write. A person’s intellectual and emotional growth can be irreparably harmed by illiteracy, which also frequently inhibits one’s ability to lead a fulfilling and successful adult life.

According to a Gallup analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education, there are about 130 million adults in the U.S. who have low literacy skills. This indicates that 54% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 read at a level below that of the sixth grade.

Additionally, Public school enrollments are projected to be higher in 2024 than in 2012.

This article talks about US literacy rates and statistics related to average reading levels in the US. By doing the research on literacy and illiteracy statistics, I have compiled the most important stats that you should have a look at.

Let’s delve into it!

Literacy Rate in the US: Top Statistics

  1. In the US, 79% of US adults are literate, and 21% of them are illiterate, according to data from the World Population Data on Literacy Statistics.
  2. According to the data from Wisevoter, the US has a national literacy rate of 80.7%.
  3. The average national numeracy rate in the US is 70.8%.
  4. As per the latest data from Wisevoter, the average illiteracy rate in the US is 19.3%.
  5. There are more than 43 million adults in the US who can not read or write above a third-grade level.
  6. According to ProLiteracy, Children of adults with low literacy skills are more likely to have a low reading level in school by 72%.
  7. Adults with literacy below the 6th grade are 54%.
  8. The data from the National Literacy Directory states that there are 14% of the employed population in the US have low literacy skills.
  9. The state with the highest literacy rate is New Hampshire, with a literacy rate of 88.5%.
  10. New Mexico is the state with the lowest adult US literacy rate in 2023.
  11. The lowest child literacy rate was in the state of New Mexico.
  12. The highest percentage of adults who are literate are in New Hampshire state.
  13. The U.S. government bears a cost of up to 2.2 trillion per year for low levels of literacy.
  14. The average American is thought to be literate at the level of a 7th or 8th grader.
  15. 1 in 4 children in the U.S. grows up without learning how to read.
  16. It is seen that 2 out of 3 students in the U.S. who can not read properly by 4th grade end up on welfare or in jail.
  17. According to the National Center for Education stats, four out of five adults have medium to high English literacy skills.
  18. There are 1 in 6 adults in the US who lack basic reading skills.
  19. Around 36 million adults in the US have limited English, reading, or math skills.
  20. Out of overall adults with low English literacy skills, there is 35% white, 5% are born outside the US, 23% are black, 34% are Hispanic, and 8 % of them are from other races.
  21. According to the 2013 report, 66% of the average 4th-grade children in the US couldn’t read proficiently.
  22. According to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, children with parents who have low literacy levels are 72% more likely to have a chance of being at the lowest level of American literacy rate. This leads to the creation of a cycle of poverty and illiteracy.  
  23. An increase of 1% in literacy scores leads to a 2.5% rise in labor productivity and a 1.5% rise in GDP.
  24. As per the latest data from the Nationa Literacy Directory, 1 in 3 adults in the US can not handle basic numbers like understanding a transit schedule or working a cash register.
  25. The data from LEP states that 23 million foreign-born US residents have limited English proficiency.
  26. The reports from the US Literacy Facts, the low rate of literacy in the United States majorly affects the healthcare industry for $70 million each year.

Literacy Statistics- Child Literacy in The United States 2024 Statistics

The majority of fourth- and eighth-graders have higher literacy rates in the US today than they did in 2008 (Digest of Education Statistics for 2018).

Literacy Statistics - Child Literacy

In children, cognitive processes develop in the first few years. By the age of 3, 85 % of the brain is fully developed. 

  1. In the US, only 35% of public school students are proficient in grade 4.
  2. 72% of the students are likely to have a low reading level whose parents have low literacy skills.
  3. According to the Children’s Reading Foundation, 2 out of 10 children enter elementary school without proficiency in grade levels.
  4. According to the NCES, 34% of students in the fourth grade lack a basic reading level.

Grade Level Proficiency

  1. NCES reports say around 34% of fourth-grade students are below the basic reading level. And 31% are below the proficient reading level.
  2. Reports from the Children’s Reading Foundation say that students who are behind in literacy rate make only one year’s worth of progress at each grade level. It is more likely to make them repeat the grades.

Child Illiteracy Rate

  1. According to ProLiteracy, 1.2 million teens, which means one in 6 high school students, drop out each year.
  2. Students with low academic performance since kindergarten make up the largest proportion.

Causes and Effects of Child Illiteracy

Childhood illiteracy can be caused by various factors, including the parental and home environment. Living situations are the most critical factor that affects child illiteracy. It can be affected by parental income level, crime, violence, regional location, employment status, etc.

Here are some of the causes that affect literacy

  1. Parental illiteracy: The family history of illiteracy is important for a child’s reading and overall growth. It is observed that parents with low literacy levels fail to nurture literacy in their children. 
  2. According to Comic Relief US, around 73% of children with parents with low education backgrounds live in low-income settings.
  3. Lack of attention to the reading: According to Literacy Partners, due to poor financial conditions and job insecurity, low-income parents are frequently disengaged from their children’s education.
  4. Nonnative status: According to the NCES, around 35% are non-US-born people. There are many families that immigrated to the US who find it hard to adopt the English language and education system. This also causes a lack of proper education, leading to illiteracy.

Effects of Child Illiteracy

Children with low literacy rates are likely to receive poor grades, skip school, and exhibit behavioral issues. Students who are illiterate may feel inept at school, resulting in low self-esteem and isolation. Childhood illiteracy can have a negative effect on adulthood.

  1. Unemployment and low-paying jobs: it is seen that one in 5 adults find it difficult to read and write basic sentences. According to the Washington Post, students with low reading and mathematics skills will likely face unemployment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is seen that many companies reject adults with low education literacy. 
  2. According to the World Literacy Foundation, Illiterate people earn 35% less than literate employees. 
  3. Higher rates of incarceration: According to BeginToRead, two-thirds of students who do not have proficient reading skills by the end of fourth grade end up in jail or on welfare. Approximately 85% of young students involved in the juvenile court process are completely illiterate. According to BeginToRead, approximately 70% of inmates in U.S. prisons cannot read above the fourth-grade level.
  4. Negative impact on society: According to ProLiteracy, low literacy costs the United States an estimated $225 billion in lost workforce productivity, crime, and lost tax revenue due to unemployment. Illiteracy also adds to the costs of federal and state welfare programs. According to BeginToRead, the majority of welfare recipients are school dropouts, and the majority of food stamp recipients have low literacy levels.

Child Literacy Statistics by State

  1. The states with the highest literacy rates in the US were Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Hampshire.
  1. New Mexico, California, and Texas were the top states in the US with low literacy rates.
  2. Massachusetts ranks first for the states with the most child literacy rates.

Data of top 10 states with child literacy rate and reading proficiency.

StateRankStudents with Low Reading Proficiency (%)
New Hampshire55%
New Jersey758%

Literacy Statistics-Adult Literacy Statistics in The United States

  1. 3 out of 5 inmates in American prisons are illiterate.
  2. 85% of young offenders struggle with reading.
  3. About 50% of Americans have reading skills so poor that they cannot complete simple tasks like reading the labels of prescription drugs.
  4. The US came in at number twelve in a study of literacy across 20 “high-income” nations.
  5. In the US, the problem of illiteracy has gotten so bad that 44 million adults are currently unable to read a simple story to their children.
  6. 50% of adults struggle to read books that are appropriate for eighth grade.
  7. 45 million people read at a fifth-grade level or below and seem to be functionally illiterate.
  8. In the United States, 44% of adults don’t read a book in a year.
  9. 3 out of 4 welfare recipients are illiterate.
  10. 20% of Americans are illiterate, which is required to make a living wage.
  11. Between the ages of 16 and 21, 50% of those without jobs are not functionally literate in reading.
  12. Due to their inability to read, 46 to 51% of American adults have an income that is significantly below the poverty line.
  13. The estimated annual cost of illiteracy to American taxpayers is $20 billion.

Adult Illiteracy Rate

  1. The median rate of adult literacy in the US is 88%.
  2. Between 2012 and 2017, the skills of 12,330 adults aged 16 to 74 were assessed by the PIACC, which included people involved from every state and county in the U.S. as well as the District of Columbia.
  3. The average rating in the United States was 264 out of 500, according to the PIACC survey that was carried out in 2012, 2014, and 2017.
  4. Only 2% of adults worldwide are proficient readers.
  5. A book written for an 8th-grade audience cannot be read by half of American adults, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  6. Reading comprehension in the United States ranges from 7th to 8th grade. (Project for Literacy).
  7. 4% of Americans (or 3 % of the world’s population) are illiterate. They are illiterate as a result. They are unable to read proficiently enough to carry out daily tasks in today’s society.
  8. Level 1 literacy is attained by 14% of Americans (global literacy rate: 12%). This indicates that they have below-basic reading and writing skills.
  9. Level 2 literacy is attained by about one-third of Americans (34% global literacy rate). This indicates that they possess fundamental reading and writing skills.
  10. Level 3 literacy is attained by more than one-third of Americans (39% global literacy rate). This indicates that they have intermediate reading and writing skills. Level 4/5 literacy is now referred to as being present in 12% of Americans (global literacy rate: 12%). They can read and write proficiently if they are at Level 4.

State-wise Adult Literacy Statistics 

  1. The overall number of literate people—those who can read and write—in a given age group, calculated as a percentage of that age group, is the literacy rate. The adult literacy rate assesses literacy among people who are 15 years of age and older.
  2. Of those with poor English literacy skills, 35% are White, and 2% are non-American born; 23% are Black, and 3% are non-American born; 34% are Hispanic, and 24% are non-American born, and 8% are of other races/ethnicities. 
  3. Adults with low literacy skills make up 34% of the population in the United States.

Numerous factors have an impact on literacy rates, which vary greatly by state.

Literacy Statistics-Top 10 States with the Lowest Literacy Rates:

Let’s now have a look at the 10 states with the most Illiterate rates.

StateLiteracy RatesNumeracy RateIlliteracy RatePopulation with a bachelor’s degree
New Mexico70.9%60.5%29.1%16%
New York75.6%65.3%24.4%22.2%

  1. With a literacy rate of 75.6%, New York has the second-highest proportion of adults who are illiterate in basic prose. But besides this, New York has 22.2% of adults who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  2. The adult literacy rate in Florida is 76.3%, making it the state with the third-highest percentage of adults who are illiterate in basic prose.
  3. With an adult literacy rate of 71.8%, Texas ranks fourth among all states, and 19.0% of adults lack even the most basic prose literacy abilities. Texas ranks fourth in terms of the proportion of libraries per 100,000 people.

Literacy Statistics- Top 10 States with Highest Literacy Rates

Here is data on the top 10 states with the highest literacy rates by states in the US.

StateLiteracy Rate Numeracy RateIlliteracy Rate% of population with bachelor’s degree
New Hampshire88.5%80.9%11.5%24.5%
North Dakota86.6%79%13.4%22.4%
  1. The literacy rate in New Hampshire is 88.5%, with the lowest percentage of adults (5.8%) lacking basic prose literacy skills. 
  2. The seventh-highest rate in the nation for adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher is found in New Hampshire, where 60.8% of the population is registered as library users.
  3. Only 6% of adults lack the most basic prose literacy skills in Minnesota, which has the second-highest literacy rate at 94.0%. The second-highest percentage of Americans—69.9%—register as library users live in Minnesota.
  4. With a third-place literacy rate of 68.6%, North Dakota has a population of adults who are 6.3% illiterate in basic prose. But with 35.9%, North Dakota has the least number of registered library users.
  5. With a literacy rate of 85.1%, South Dakota is the fifth most literate state, and 7.0% of adults lack basic prose literacy abilities. The fifth-highest number of public libraries per 100,000 people is found in South Dakota, with 16.4.

Literacy Statistics-Literacy and its Impact on the Economy

  1. 20% of the US people read below the level that is needed to earn a living wage.
  2. As per the data from the national literacy, 3 out of 4 people on welfare can not read.
  3. 50% of the unemployed people are aged between 16 to 21.
  4. Due to the inability to read, 46% to 51% of Americans have an income level below the poverty.
  5. Illiteracy costs around $20 billion each year to American taxpayers.
  6. Around 40% of the students in the US cannot read at a basic level.
  7. According to ProLiteracy, on average, $106-$238 billion in annual healthcare costs are low literacy skills in America.
  8. As per the data from the Gallup Study, raising every American adult’s literacy rate to a 6th-grade reading level can generate more than $2.2 trillion a year for the US economy.

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Alvin Parker

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