The literacy rate is the total number of literate persons (people able to both read and write) in a given age group, expressed as the percentage of that age group. The adult literacy rate measures literacy among persons age 15 and older.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about four out of five U.S. adults (79%) have medium to high English literacy skills. These literacy levels are sufficient to compare and contrast information, paraphrase, and make low-level inferences. This means that about one in five U.S. adults (21%) have low literacy skills, translating to about 43.0 million adults.
Of those who have low English literacy skills, 35% are White, 2% of whom are born outside of the U.S.; 23% are Black, 3% of whom are born outside of the U.S.; 34% are Hispanic, 24% of whom are born outside of the U.S.; 8% are of other races/ethnicities. Non-U.S.-born adults comprise 34% of the U.S. population with low literacy skills.
Literacy rates vary greatly by state and are affected by several factors.
States with the High Literacy Rates
1. New Hampshire
New Hampshire has the lowest percentage (5.8%) of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills, making New Hampshire's literacy rate of 94.2%. About 36.6% of adults in New Hampshire have a Bachelor's degree or higher, the seventh-highest rate in the country, and 60.8% of the population are registered library users, also the seventh-highest in the country.
Minnesota has the second-highest literacy rate of 94.0%, with only 6% of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills. About 69.9% of Minnesota residents are registered library users, the second-highest in the country.
3. North Dakota
North Dakota has the third-highest literacy rate of 93.7%, with 6.3% of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills. North Dakota, however, has the lowest percentage of registered library users of 35.9%.
Vermont has the fourth-highest literacy rate of 93.4%, with 6.6% of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills. Vermont is also the fourth-most educated state in the U.S.. Vermont has the highest number of libraries per 100,000 people of 29.8 and has the eighth-highest Bachelor's degree or higher attainment of 36.4%.
5. South Dakota
South Dakota has the fifth-highest literacy rate of 93.0%, with 7.0% of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills. South Dakota has 16.4 public libraries per 100,000 residents, the fifth-highest in the country.
States with the Lowest Literacy Rates
California's 23.1% of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills make California have the lowest literacy rate of 76.9%. The state of California and the state Department of Education are being blamed and sued for the failing literacy rate, as families and students believe that they are not receiving a quality education in reading and writing.
2. New York
New York has the second-highest percentage of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills of 22.1%, equaling a literacy rate of 77.9%. Despite this, New York has the ninth-highest percentage of adults with Bachelor's degrees or higher of 35.7%.
Florida has the third-highest percentage of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills of 19.7%, equaling a literacy rate of 80.3%. Florida has the lowest number of public libraries per 100,000 residents of 2.6.
Texas has the fourth-lowest literacy rate of 81.0%, with 19.0% of adults lacking basic prose literacy skills. Texas has the fourth-lowest number of libraries of 3.2 per 100,000 residents.
5. New Jersey
The fifth-lowest literacy rate in the United States is in New Jersey, where 16.9% of adults lack basic prose literacy skills, and 83.1% are literate. Despite this, 38.6% of New Jersey adults have a Bachelor's degree or higher, the country's fifth-highest. Additionally, New Jersey also has the third-best public schools.