America’s Literacy Problems


Jesse Schuerer

Photo of an AP literature novel textbook and a Charles Dickens

Jesse Schuerer, Reporter

There are over 7 million people in the world who are illiterate with an inability to read or write, or functionally illiterate, meaning they have a basic understanding of reading and writing but perform at a below 5th-grade level.

We have come a long way in terms of literacy. 200 hundred years ago, 12% of the human population could read, and now 12% cannot. Although adult illiteracy isn’t just a problem in developing countries, roughly 21% of adults in the United States are illiterate or functionally illiterate, and more than 54% lack proficient reading and writing skills.

This is concerning because literacy impacts every aspect of our daily lives. In the modern world illiteracy vastly impacts employment options, housing security, incarceration rates, and much more. Not being able to fill out basic forms or make inferences from written materials.

In order to solve this problem, people are addressing the causes of illiteracy, such as undiagnosed learning disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD, which are more effectively addressed when discovered in early childhood. Another thing that greatly impacts adult illiteracy is low exposure to literature at a young age.

According to American Progress, an advocacy organization based in Washington D.C stated, “Many experts also argue that a major contributing factor is the lack of training teachers receive in identifying children who are at risk of reading failure and in building oral language and linguistic skills.”

Other arguments say that early education teachers don’t receive proper instruction on how to effectively teach reading and writing skills, and current school curriculums don’t align with modern science behind effective instruction methods.

The issue of exposure doesn’t just have to do with teachers or school curriculums, access to books and being read to is an important factor in getting children to read at grade level. 

The fact that the United States is among the most literate countries in the world doesn’t mean that everyone can read, or has been thought to read in a proficient manner. A person’s education affects them for the rest of their lives and a person’s reading and writing skills are among the most important, but people continue to lose out on opportunities because of a subpar education.