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Why Too Many Adults Do Not Like to Read and Adult Illiteracy Statistics

Bill Allen
Bill Allen
Jun 05, 2023

Who are these Non-Readers?   

The team at Magical I Am believes they are adults who failed to learn to read fluently with comprehension and to enjoy reading while in school. We presume that they experienced frustration and failure in attempting to master reading when young, were ridiculed and felt shame when they could not read out loud in class, and now avoid reading as adults and fear being discovered as not able to read.  These adults suffer every time they cannot read to their small child, want to take jobs that require reading, want to read the labels on medications and products they would like to buy. 

Abstract Words and The Interrupt Dynamic 

Abstract words and symbols make up a large part of the words in print -- over 50% of words read in grades K-5 are abstract. Abstract words and symbols can challenge the brain so that the reader develops an apparent “word blindness” after encountering several of them in a few lines of text. The words that provide no useful input become like blank spaces in the text of the sentence being read. 

For example, the sentence below has individual letters standing in for unreadable abstract words: 

“h    w    y   understand   w   w   written   o   t   page   i   t   w   a    l    o    blank spaces?”      

(Translated: “how would you understand what was written on this page if there were a lot of blank spaces?”)  

The lack of sensory meaning makes it hard to learn to recognize and read abstract words, and the occurrence of the “Interrupt Dynamic” that occurs when single or multiple abstract words suddenly cause confusion and interrupt reading fluency and comprehension.  

The team at Magical I Am believes that because this deterrent to reading is unconscious, it is not suspected to be a key reading disability problem. With many interruptions, confusion and frustration can build to the point that the reader wants to get away from the stress and discomfort of reading. When these children grow to be adults who are incapable of reading fluently at the level of their peers, they are not attracted to reading books, newspapers, eBooks, articles, labels, forms, and contracts.  It is too difficult, if not impossible, to understand them. 

U.S. Adult Illiteracy Facts: 

Poor Young Readers become Adults who do not like to Read: 

“1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.” (WriteExpress Corp. “Literacy Statistics” Begin to Read. Accessed Arpil 16, 2014). 

68% of fourth-graders in Georgia are not reading proficiently. “   (Georgia Center for Nonprofits 2013) 

“Children who aren’t reading at grade level at the end of third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school. “     (Donald J Hernandez, Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation). 

“Each dropout, over their lifetime, costs the nation approximately $260,000.” (Rouse, C.D. (2005).  “Labor market consequences of an inadequate education.”  Paper prepared the Social Costs of Inadequate Education symposium, Teachers College Columbia University, October 2005.) 

If kids struggle with reading in their younger years, it increases the odds that they'll do so as adults.“  (Shocking Facts: 23 statistics on Illiteracy in America. May 2016; 

“14% of Americans cannot read. 4% of all Americans are illiterate and cannot carry out daily tasks in society. 2023 US Literacy Rate Statistics; p9. 

A book written for an 8th-grade audience cannot be read by half of American adults. 2023 US Literacy Rate Statistics; p9. 

“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% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade-level.”      (

An increase of 1% in Literacy scores leads to a 2.5% rise in labor productivity and 1.5% rise n GDP”. 2023 US Literacy Rate Statistics; p4. 

“Approximately 32 million adults in the United States can’t read (are functionally illiterate), according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of U.S. adults couldn’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level. “   ( August 26, 2015

How common is it for adults to not like to read? 

About a quarter of American adults (24%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form. “(Pew Research Center.  March 23, 2018,  Andrew Perrin. Who doesn’t read books in America?

“Huffington Post (who polled 1000 adults) found that 28% adults had not read a book in the last year; 41% of their respondents had not read a fiction book in the past year; and 42% had not read a nonfiction book in the last year.” (

In 1978, Gallup found that 42% of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year.  Pew (2014) today finds that only 28 % hit the 11 mark.  Research suggests that these numbers are related to the level of education of the adult.”  (

Yet, “To participate fully in society and the workplace in 2020, citizens will need powerful literacy abilities that until now have been achieved by only a small percentage of the population.”  (Literacy Statistics Reference Information National Council on Teachers of English Standards for the English Language Arts.) 

“Despite [the U.S.] being a global economic and political leader, illiteracy continues to be a pervasive problem in the U.S. for adults who struggle with reading, the impact is felt in a number of ways, but the most obvious one is in the workplace. While researchers have pinpointed some of the causes behind the illiteracy crisis, including poverty, learning disabilities and a lack of parental participation, finding a solution has proven difficult.” (CreditDonkey) 

To put the severity of the issue into perspective, CreditDonkeyhas assembled a list of 23 startling statistics on illiteracy in America.” (Shocking Facts: 23 statistics on Illiteracy in America. May 2016. 

Below are Four of the 23 CreditDonkey U.S. illiteracy statistics:  

#2. How does [US Illiteracy] compare to the rest of the world?  On a global scale, illiteracy affects 774 million adults aged 15 or older. Among developed nations, the U.S. ranks 16th for adult reading skills. 

#3. How many [US] adults only read at the lowest proficiency level?
Between 40 and 44 million adults, or roughly 20 to 23% of adults in the U.S. are limited to reading at the basic or below basic proficiency levels. 

#10. What percentage of high school graduates can't read [in the US]?  Making it to graduation day is a major milestone for teens, but many of them struggle to decipher the words on their diploma. Just under 20% of high school grads haven't developed basic reading proficiency by the time they don their cap and gown. 

#21. How does illiteracy impact the [US] economy?  In terms of lost productivity, it's estimated that the portion of the population that can't read costs the nation a staggering $225 billion each year

According to the International Literacy Association, there are 781 million people in the world who are either illiterate (cannot read a single word) or functionally illiterate (with a basic or below basic ability to read – Fifth-grade). Some 126 million are young people. That accounts for 12 percent of the world’s population.” 

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES 2020),  

  • 21 percent of adults in the United States (about 43 million) fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category.  

  • Nearly two-thirds of fourth graders read below grade level, and the same number graduate from high school still reading below grade level.  

This puts the United States well behind several other countries in the world, including Japan, all the Scandinavian countries, Canada, the Republic of Korea, and the UK.” “The NCES breaks the below-grade-level reading numbers out further:  

  • 35 percent are white, 34 percent Hispanic, 23 percent African American, and 8 percent “other.”  

Nor is this a problem just for English Second Language Learners.  

  • Non-U.S.-born adults make up 34 percent of the low literacy/illiterate U.S. population.  

  • New Hampshire, Minnesota, and North Dakota have the highest literacy rates (94.2 percent, 94 percent, and 93.7 percent respectively);  

  • While Florida, New York, and California have the lowest literacy rates (80.3 percent, 77.9 percent, and 76.9 percent respectively).”  April 2020, Amy Rea. 

The projections beyond 2020 show that education well beyond high school will be required to be competitive in getting a job that is financially supportive.  

By 2020, jobs in the District [of Columbia] will require the highest concentration of postsecondary education.” (According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.  “State Level Analysis, June 2010.  Help Wanted Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018”) 

The Sky Village – Trail of Spells app  is a literacy-based adventure game designed to help children master abstract words and symbols, especially those children who are at risk of becoming part of the population who hates to or can’t read – becoming the adults who don’t like to read.   

How Serious is America’s Literacy Problem?

map 29April2020 

Percentage of State Population Below 5th grade literacy 


To the left is a Map of The Most and Least Literate States   

Go to the website, and hover over a state for literacy details.  7Sep 2018. 

Learn to Read, so you can Read to Learn.™ 

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