Over 36 million adults in the U.S. lack basic literacy skills.

In lieu of sufficient data, we can identify areas of the country with the lowest literacy scores and examine factors that impact those regions.

Specific geographic regions are more heavily impacted than others.

In the South, there are many clusters of low literacy counties, particularly along the Mississippi River, in western Alabama, and from Georgia up through the Carolinas.

Regions with the lowest literacy scores in the country include parts of California, the Rio Grande Valley, and parts of Florida.

Every low-literacy community faces a unique set of obstacles, calling for specific remedies.

In certain regions, low literacy rates likely stem from the percentage of non-English speakers. For instance, there are many non-native English speakers in the Rio Grande Valley and Miami-Dade County.

Regardless of literacy in their native language, people may not have learned to read and write in English. Language learners may require different literacy services than native speakers.

Literacy deeply impacts health.

Communities struggling with literacy often deal with a host of issues that limit residents’ ability to access healthcare and lead healthy lives. Many counties with low literacy, such as Imperial County, CA and Jefferson Davis County, MS, report strikingly low health outcomes.

Literacy affects income.

The South has a particularly high concentration of residents in poverty. These communities have some of the lowest prose literacy scores in the U.S.

Holmes County, MS and Williamsburg, SC are in two of the most economically disadvantaged regions in the country: the Mississippi Delta and Southern Coastal Plain.

Dive into the data.

The counties highlighted here face the greatest socioeconomic hurdles. They also intersect with predominantly Black/African American or Hispanic/Latinx communities. Unjust disadvantages in wealth, education and healthcare can negatively impact literacy in these communities.

Use our map tool to see how literacy affects lives.