Literacy Facts



Literacy isn’t just about reading books. Reading and writing are tools for eradicating poverty, oppression, a means of reducing child mortality, and the key to gender equality. In today’s high-technology world, illiteracy usually equals unemployment and an inability to compete.

Literacy Facts

Children & Young Adults

  • If a child is not reading proficiently in the 4th grade, he or she will have approximately a 78% chance of not catching up.
  • 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
  • 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare

Prison Inmates

  • More than 60% of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
  • Inmates have a 70% chance of returning to prison if they receive no literacy help, as opposed to 16% who receive help.
  • The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.
  • Over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.
  • 3 out of 5 people in American prisons can’t read.


  • 32 million adults in the U.S. can't read. That's 14% of the population. 21% of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19% of high school graduates can't read.
  • 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level.
  • 45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level.
  • 44% of American adults do not read a book in a year.

World Literacy Rates

  • Globally, 776 million people cannot read or write

Illiteracy is an overwhelming problem in developing nations. Countries in South Asia, West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa have particularly low rates of literacy and in Haiti, only half of adults can read. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are female; in Afghanistan, as few as 12 percent can read..


  • Department of Justice
  • National Center for Education Statistics
  • National Assessment of Adult Literacy
  • National Education Association - Facts About Children's Literacy