Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Literacy Rates By State and County

I ran into this very interesting web site recently, the National Center for Education Statistics' State and County Estimates of Basic Literacy.  The next time you see someone looking down their nose at us illiterate knuckledraggers here in Flyover Country--have them take a look at this!  It measures what is defined as basic literacy (in English) of adults in every county in the U.S.  The blue states don't do so well: California, 23% lack basic literacy; New York, 22%, D.C., 19%; New Jersey, 17%.  Many of the red states are astonishingly better off: Idaho, 11%; Alaska, 9%; Kansas, 8%.

Now, some of this is probably tied to large populations of recent immigrants who can't read English.  A number of the southern border states are almost up there with the blue states: Texas, 19%; New Mexico, 16%.  But Arizona only has 13% adult illiteracy--and this was a survey from 2003, before Arizona started passing laws to punish those who employ illegal aliens.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Old South states that are commonly derided in some circles as "the Bible Belt" really aren't so bad.  North Carolina: 14%; Alabama, 15%; Mississippi, 16%.  These aren't great numbers--but they aren't California or New York, either.

You can also break these statistics out by county.  I was startled to see that Boise County (where I live) is actually better than the state as a whole: 9% for Boise County, vs. 11% for the whole state.  The real shocker is Clark County, up in the upper northeast corner near Montana, with a 37% adult illiteracy rate--although the tiny population means the 95% confidence interval is huge for that county.


  1. I believe the 28% figure for Monterey County, where I live, because of the "...who could not be tested due to language barriers" footnote. Even excluding the illegals, there's a substantial Spanish-only community that has no reason to assimilate.

    There's a large grocery store within a mile of my house that has all their products labeled in Spanish first and English maybe. It used to be a Nob Hill, but the demographics have shifted over the past ten years.


  2. I see that the percentage of illiterate in America is quite similar to the percentage of uninsured in America. Clearly we need national education reform. A public option will probably need to be included. We’ll need a federal department of education to oversee the national plan, various state departments of education to make sure the private schools are offering education plans that provide the minimum basic curriculum, and some sort of government run schools to provide the public option portion of the plan. We could call the government run schools “public schools”.

  3. Excellent! We'll get Obama right on that!