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K–12 Education

U.S. Literacy Rate

February 13, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 7

I’m a longtime member of ACS and reader of C&EN. It is an excellent magazine; it’s well researched, well written, and interesting. Thank you for your work on it.

I just read the letter from Eldon H. Sund (C&EN, Dec. 12, 2011, page 2) claiming that the U.S. illiteracy rate is 20%. The CIA World Factbook (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html) states that the U.S. literacy rate is 99%, making the illiteracy rate 1%. I’m surprised that a fact like this was not checked by your excellent staff.

By Andy Babij
Livingston, N.J.

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Comments
S. Dwight Parker (July 11, 2013 9:54 AM)
The 20% figure likely came from the 2009 Human Development Report which reported the US "functional illiteracy" rate as such. I'm not sure how the HDR defined functional illiteracy but usually that includes individuals who are not able to read or write above a certain level in English, in the case of the US. They may be literate in another language and be considered functionally illiterate for the purposes of that report. In addition, the government data are likely inflated as well as census data report that more than 1% of the US population is blind, which I imagine would inhibit literacy.

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