Understanding Illiteracy [Infographic]

If you’re reading, you should consider yourself lucky, if this infographic is anything to go by.

One of the great things about infographics is how they make complex social problems visible in a dramatic way. September 8 is International Literacy Day and this graphic highlights how not being able to read or write can really hurt your chances at success in life.


It’s depressing to look at these statistics, even though illiteracy has been steadily dropping overall throughout the world. Although the developing world has the highest rates of illiteracy, a surprising amount of people in the U.S. have trouble reading. Over 50 million Americans can’t read at a 5th grade level, and 42 million can’t read at all. This includes twenty percent of high school seniors.

Seventy percent of the U.S. prison population can be classified as illiterate and 85 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system are illiterate. About 45 percent of people living below the poverty line in the U.S. have low literacy skills as well.

And it’s not only being illiterate with letters that can hurt your chances in life. Illiteracy with numbers can really set you back as well. According to the U.S Department of Education, most adults are unable to apply math to real-life problems. For example, many people have trouble calculating tips in restaurants, figuring out the interest on their mortgages, and doing their taxes. One in five Americans can’t even calculate a weekly salary from an hourly pay rate. Half of all 17-year-olds in the U.S. lack the math skills to work in an auto plant. Perhaps we wouldn’t be living in such interesting economic times if more people were able to do basic math problems like these.

If these statistics have shocked you, you may want to volunteer for a local literacy program, which is often run through your local library, to teach illiterate adults how to read.

For more infographics, see The Dark Side of Google and The Infographics That Summarize College.