What Is the Literacy Rate of the United States?

The 2014 literacy rate in the United States, defined as 15-year-olds who can read and write, is 99 percent. Debate exists about the real literacy levels. A 2013 study found that 21 percent of adults read below a fifth-grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.

Poverty and crime are interrelated with low literacy levels. Seventy percent of jail inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level, and 85 percent of young people in the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate, meaning their reading and writing is below levels needed to sustain basic life functions. People who are literate at only the lowest two levels of literacy comprise 75 percent of welfare recipients.