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Literacy Statistics

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Report Highlights

  • Nationwide, on average, 79% of U.S. adults are literate in 2021.
  • 21% of adults in the US are illiterate in 2021.
  • 54% of adults have a literacy below 6th grade level.
  • Low levels of literacy costs the US up to 2.2 trillion per year.
  • 34% of adults who lack proficiency in literacy were born outside the US.
  • Massachusetts was the state with the highest rate of child literacy.
  • New Mexico was the state with the lowest child literacy rate.
  • The state with the highest percentage of adults who were considered literate was New Hampshire.
  • The state with the lowest adult literacy rate was California.
  • On average, nationwide, 66% of 4th grade children in the U.S. could not read proficiently in 2013.

us literacy statistics

Child Literacy Statistics

According to the 2018 Digest of Education Statistics, reading scores for most children in 4th and 8th grade were measurably higher in 2017 than they were in 1992, though not measurably higher than they were in 2015.

Additionally, the performance gap between certain ethnic groups, such as between White and Black students and between White and Hispanic groups, decreased significantly between 1992 and 2017, though not very much between 2015 and 2017.

  • On average, in 2017, female 8th graders scored 10 points higher than male 8th graders on the reading portion of the Average National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • Fourth grade students, overall, improved 5 points between 1992 and 2017, while 8th grade students, overall, improved 7 points between 1992 and 2017.
  • The Top 3 states for highest child literacy rates were Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Hampshire, in that order (highest to lowest).
  • The Bottom 3 states for child literacy rates were Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico, (highest to lowest).
  • Across the U.S., 66% of all 4th graders in 2013 were reading below proficiency levels, which was a 6% improvement from 2003.

Child Literacy Statistics by State (4th Grade)

State Rank (lower is better) Students Not Reading Proficiently (%) Lower Income Students Not Reading Proficiently (%) Higher Income Students Not Reading Proficiently (%) Improvement since 2003 (%)
Alabama 35 69 82 51 12
Alaska 44 73 85 60 -1
Arizona 40 72 85 57 6
Arkansas 32 68 78 54 6
California 43 73 85 54 8
Colorado 8 59 79 54 6
Connecticut 5 57 81 43 0
Delaware 13 62 75 48 7
District of Columbia 45 77 87 39 14
Florida 12 61 73 42 10
Georgia 26 66 79 47 10
Hawaii 37 70 83 57 11
Idaho 31 67 78 56 4
Illinois 28 66 84 48 4
Indiana 14 (tied) 62 75 49 7
Iowa 16 62 77 52 5
Kansas 14 (tied) 62 78 46 7
Kentucky 21 64 77 49 7
Louisiana 46 77 85 58 4
Maine 19 (tied) 63 76 52 2
Maryland 2 55 76 42 19
Massachusetts 1 53 75 38 12
Michigan 34 69 81 58 -1
Minnesota 9 59 77 48 6
Mississippi 47 79 85 58 4
Missouri 23 65 77 51 2
Montana 24 65 78 54 0
Nebraska 19 (tied) 63 77 51 7
Nevada 42 73 83 56 9
New Hampshire 3 55 76 47 8
New Jersey 7 58 78 44 5
New Mexico 48 79 85 61 2
New York 18 63 77 47 5
North Carolina 22 65 78 47 3
North Dakota 29 66 78 60 3
Ohio 17 63 80 48 5
Oklahoma 36 70 79 57 5
Oregon 30 67 79 50 3
Pennsylvania 10 60 77 45 10
Rhode Island 15 62 81 45 13
South Carolina 39 72 83 54 3
South Dakota 33 68 82 58 -1
Tennessee 27 66 82 48 11
Texas 38 72 83 53 -1
Utah 20 (tied) 63 76 54 7
Vermont 6 58 74 46 8
Virginia 4 57 79 44 12
Washington 11 60 77 47 10
West Virginia 41 73 76 63 -3
Wisconsin 25 65 80 53 3
Wyoming 20 (tied) 63 76 54 5
Average 24 66 80 49 6

Adult Literacy Statistics

  • The literacy rate for adults across the U.S. averages 88%.
  • Between 2012 and 2017, the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC) surveyed the abilities of 12,330 adults between 16 – 74 years of age, with representatives from every U.S. county and state as well as the District of Columbia.
  • Based on the PIACC survey for the years 2012, 2014, and 2017, the average score nationwide in the U.S. was 264 out of 500 points.
  • New Hampshire, Minnesota, and North Dakota had the highest rates of literacy, in descending order.
  • Florida, New York, and California had the lowest rates of literacy, also in descending order.

Adult Literacy Rate and PIACC Score Estimate by State

State Literacy Rate (%) Literacy Rank PIACC Estimate PIACC Rank
Alabama 85.2 39 259 44
Alaska 90.8 19 277 5
Arizona 86.9 33 262 37
Arkansas 86.3 37 259 45
California 76.9 50 257 46
Colorado 90.1 22 272 16
Connecticut 91.4 15 271 18
Delaware 89.3 26 264 34
District of Columbia n/a n/a 277 4
Florida 80.3 48 259 43
Georgia 83.3 45 260 39
Hawaii 84.1 40 270 22
Idaho 89.5 25 270 24
Illinois 87.1 32 266 31
Indiana 92.0 12 266 27
Iowa 92.5 9 273 9
Kansas 92.2 11 271 19
Kentucky 87.8 29 261 38
Louisiana 84.0 41 252 51
Maine 92.6 8 273 11
Maryland 88.8 27 268 26
Massachusetts 90.1 23 273 13
Michigan 91.7 13 271 21
Minnesota 94.0 2 279 2
Mississippi 84.0 42 252 49
Missouri 92.5 10 266 30
Montana 91.2 16 273 14
Nebraska 92.7 6 271 17
Nevada 83.9 43 255 47
New Hampshire 94.2 1 279 1
New Jersey 83.1 46 264 33
New Mexico 83.5 44 252 50
New York 77.9 49 260 42
North Carolina 86.4 36 265 32
North Dakota 93.7 3 276 6
Ohio 90.9 18 268 25
Oklahoma 87.7 30 263 35
Oregon 89.8 24 273 10
Pennsylvania 87.4 31 266 28
Rhode Island 91.5 14 266 29
South Carolina 85.3 38 263 36
South Dakota 93.0 5 271 20
Tennessee 86.8 34 260 40
Texas 81.0 47 254 48
Utah 90.6 20 274 8
Vermont 93.4 4 277 3
Virginia 88.0 28 270 23
Washington 90.2 21 275 7
West Virginia 86.6 35 260 41
Wisconsin 92.7 7 273 12
Wyoming 91.1 17 272 15
Average 88 25.5 264 26

References

  1. U.S. Department of Education Data Points Adult Literacy in the United States
  2. NCES Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies
  3. What is PIAAC?
  4. Digest of Education Statistics 2018
  5. Literacy Project – 30 Key Child Literacy Stats Parents Need to Be Aware of
  6. NCES States and Counties with Highest and Lowest Levels of Adult Literacy
  7. NCES PIAAC Skills Map
  8. NCES PIACC Comparison Charts
  9. World Population Review U.S. Literacy Rates by State
  10. States Where Children Are Struggling the Most to Read
  11. AECF Data Snapshot Early Reading Proficiency