- Nationwide, on average, 79% of U.S. adults are literate in 2023.
- 21% of adults in the US are illiterate in 2023.
- 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.
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 (%)|
|District of Columbia||45||77||87||39||14|
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|
|District of Columbia||n/a||n/a||277||4|
Literacy Rate By Country 2023
The following table provides an overview of the literacy rates for 20 diverse countries around the world, reflecting data available as of 2023.
These figures represent the percentage of the population aged 15 and over who can read and write, though definitions and methodologies may vary by country.
|Country||Literacy Rate (%)|
- U.S. Department of Education Data Points Adult Literacy in the United States
- NCES Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies
- What is PIAAC?
- Digest of Education Statistics 2018
- Literacy Project – 30 Key Child Literacy Stats Parents Need to Be Aware of
- NCES States and Counties with Highest and Lowest Levels of Adult Literacy
- NCES PIAAC Skills Map
- NCES PIACC Comparison Charts
- World Population Review U.S. Literacy Rates by State
- States Where Children Are Struggling the Most to Read
- AECF Data Snapshot Early Reading Proficiency