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The U.S. Illiteracy Rate Hasn't Changed In 10 Years

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Sunday is International Literacy Day! We recommend taking the opportunity to curl up with with a warm cup of coffee, a comfy chair, and a favorite classic. Of course, this holiday is bittersweet - We know we'll be celebrating accordingly, but many Americans won't be able to do so.

According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can't read. That's 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can't read.

The current literacy rate isn't any better than it was 10 years ago. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (completed most recently in 2003, and before that, in 1992), 14 percent of adult Americans demonstrated a "below basic" literacy level in 2003, and 29 percent exhibited a "basic" reading level.

We probably don't need to spell out the benefits of reading and writing for you. Economic security, access to health care, and the ability to actively participate in civic life all depend on an individual's ability to read.

According to the Department of Justice, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." The stats back up this claim: 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 percent of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level, according to

Visit the American Library Association to learn more about what libraries are doing - and what you can do - to promote literacy. Your contribution can be as simple as reading stories to young relatives, volunteering to read at your local school or donating your unwanted books to libraries and organizations such as Housing Works.

Around the Web

List of countries by literacy rate - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Literacy in the United States - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Literacy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The World Factbook - Central Intelligence Agency

Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above) | Data ...

National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) - 120 Years of Literacy

illiteracy: World Illiteracy Rates |

Illiteracy Statistics | Statistic Brain

Literacy Rate - How Many Are Illiterate - California Literacy

The official source of literacy data - Institut de statistique de l'Unesco