U.S. Literacy Rates by State

Literacy, in its strictest sense, is the ability to recognize letters, words, and numbers as well as the capacity to write, read, and count. Or at least it was the way literacy was understood before the 1950s. Today, literacy also includes other types of skills such as identification, interpretation, understanding, creation, and communication. Literacy rates are therefore a great indicator of a population’s literacy skills.

The literacy rate is the number of people who can both read and write in a particular age group, expressed as a percentage of that group. For adults, the literacy rate is measured among those who are fifteen or older. 

Literacy rates have long been considered an indicator of the development of a nation, as it shows a population is educated and can improve the quality of employment. Fluctuations in literacy rates are often seen as a sign of a state’s potential underdevelopment: they show that education systems are failing which can result in a reduced GDP. Therefore, most countries  take various measures, including literacy programs and improvements to education, to push for high literacy rates. 

US Literacy Rates

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found 79% of American adults have medium to high English literacy skills—described as literacy levels sufficient to compare and contrast information, paraphrase, and make low-level inferences. This means that 21%, or about 43 million adults, have low literacy skills, bordering on illiteracy. These low literacy levels have various impacts on the wider nation, and can negatively affect the U.S. economy due to the loss of employment opportunities and workforce productivity. It has been estimated that low levels of literacy cost the U.S. $2.2 trillion per year. More broadly, low levels of literacy may also lead to political disengagement, greater dependency on social welfare programs, and higher crime rates. 

The overall literacy rate of the U.S. can be broken down further, and another factor that should be taken into consideration is immigration. Indeed, the United States hosts more immigrants than any other nation in the world. This is reflected in literacy rates: 34% of those who lack English literacy proficiency were born outside the country. This also correlates to states with large communities that were born outside the United States. For example, California, where more than 20% of the population is born outside the U.S., also has one of the lowest adult literacy rates in the country.

Children’s literacy rates, which across the U.S. saw 66% of 4th graders reading below proficiency levels in 2013, are also important. As children’s low literacy rates can cause similar damaging effects on a nation’s overall health. For instance, when low literacy levels are prevalent among children, the likelihood that their literacy level will develop later in life is smaller. This may lead to the prospect of a prolonged fall in overall adult literacy rates, which will negatively impact the nation’s well-being.   

Literacy Rates by State 

Literacy rates, particularly in a nation the size of the United States, will differ across the country due to a number of factors including the difference in powers between federal and state governments, and the emphasis put on education in a said state. Massachusetts, for instance, has one of the highest children’s literacy rates in the United States. This could be due to the state putting a lot of emphasis on children’s education, which is further evident by the fact that the state recently passed a “millionaire tax” to fund public education and state infrastructure projects. Similarly, New Hampshire – the state that has the highest literacy rates in the country – has greatly promoted children and adult literacy, establishing various programs to increase the literacy levels of its inhabitants. 

On the other side of the spectrum, states like New Mexico, California, and Texas have low literacy levels: 70.9%, 71.6%, and 71.8%. Immigration is one factor to take into account, as California and Texas host a higher percentage of foreign-born populations in comparison to other states. Poverty is another key factor contributing to low literacy rates. New Mexico, for example, has one of the highest poverty rates in the country and has one of the lowest literacy rates in the U.S. The state took steps to address this issue by implementing a new literacy framework.  

List of literacy rates by state:

  1. New Hampshire – 88.50%
  2. Alaska – 87.30%
  3. Vermont – 87.20%
  4. Minnesota – 86.90%
  5. Montana – 86.90%
  6. Maine – 86.60%
  7. North Dakota – 86.60%
  8. Wyoming – 86.40%
  9. Utah – 85.50%
  10. Iowa – 85.10%
  11. South Dakota – 85.10%
  12. Wisconsin – 84.70%
  13. Hawaii – 84.10%
  14. Washington – 83.90%
  15. Idaho – 83.60%
  16. Nebraska – 83.60%
  17. Colorado – 83.40%
  18. Oregon – 83.20%
  19. Kansas – 83.10%
  20. Connecticut – 82.80%
  21. Massachusetts – 82.70%
  22. Michigan – 82.40%
  23. Ohio – 82.30%
  24. Pennsylvania – 81.90%
  25. Indiana – 81.30%
  26. Virginia – 81.20%
  27. Missouri – 81.10%
  28. Maryland – 80%
  29. Oklahoma – 79.90%
  30. Delaware – 79.70%
  31. Illinois – 79.60%
  32. Rhode Island – 79.60%
  33. New Jersey – 79.30%
  34. West Virginia – 79.10%
  35. North Carolina – 78.70%
  36. Tennessee – 78.30%
  37. Kentucky – 78.10%
  38. District of Columbia – 77.70%
  39. South Carolina – 77.60%
  40. Arkansas – 76.90%
  41. Arizona – 76.60%
  42. Georgia – 76.40%
  43. Florida – 76.30%
  44. Alabama – 76.10%
  45. New York – 75.60%
  46. Nevada – 74.70%
  47. Louisiana – 72.90%
  48. Mississippi – 72%
  49. Texas – 71.80%
  50. California – 71.60%
  51. New Mexico – 70.90%

Literacy Rate Estimate by State

Alabama - Literacy Rate Estimate

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76.1%

#40 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

62.6%

#47 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

13.1%

#45 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

16.6%

#45 in the US

Alaska - Literacy Rate Estimate

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87.3%

#2 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

79.2%

#2 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

6.9%

#1 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

20.9%

#27 in the US

Arizona - Literacy Rate Estimate

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76.6%

#41 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

66.8%

#36 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

12.1%

#39 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

19.8%

#35 in the US

Arkansas - Literacy Rate Estimate

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76.9%

#42 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

64.3%

#43 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

12.8%

#40 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

15.9%

#48 in the US

California - Literacy Rate Estimate

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71.6%

#49 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

64%

#44 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

16.1%

#51 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.1%

#12 in the US

Colorado - Literacy Rate Estimate

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83.4%

#14 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

75.2%

#14 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

7.9%

#9 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

27.4%

#1 in the US

Connecticut - Literacy Rate Estimate

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82.8%

#20 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

74%

#19 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

9.1%

#23 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

23.2%

#9 in the US

Delaware - Literacy Rate Estimate

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79.7%

#29 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

68.8%

#33 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

9.4%

#24 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

20.6%

#28 in the US

District of Columbia - Literacy Rate Estimate

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77.7%

#38 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

66.1%

#37 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

8.1%

#15 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

25.2%

#3 in the US

Florida - Literacy Rate Estimate

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76.3%

#43 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

65.2%

#40 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

11.5%

#34 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

20.6%

#29 in the US

Georgia - Literacy Rate Estimate

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76.4%

#44 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

63.4%

#45 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

12.2%

#41 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

20.9%

#30 in the US

Hawaii - Literacy Rate Estimate

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84.1%

#12 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

76.6%

#11 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

7.6%

#10 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.2%

#13 in the US

Idaho - Literacy Rate Estimate

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83.6%

#15 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

74.3%

#20 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

8.7%

#16 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

20.2%

#31 in the US

Illinois - Literacy Rate Estimate

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79.6%

#30 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

69.9%

#29 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

10.3%

#31 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.1%

#14 in the US

Indiana - Literacy Rate Estimate

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81.3%

#24 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

70.5%

#26 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

10.7%

#32 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

18.5%

#40 in the US

Iowa - Literacy Rate Estimate

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85.1%

#9 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

77%

#6 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

7.5%

#11 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

20.7%

#32 in the US

Kansas - Literacy Rate Estimate

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83.1%

#16 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

75%

#15 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

8.7%

#17 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22%

#15 in the US

Kentucky - Literacy Rate Estimate

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78.1%

#35 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

66.3%

#38 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

12.8%

#42 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

15.9%

#49 in the US

Louisiana - Literacy Rate Estimate

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72.9%

#47 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

58.4%

#50 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

14.2%

#48 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

16.8%

#46 in the US

Maine - Literacy Rate Estimate

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86.6%

#4 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

77.1%

#7 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

6.8%

#2 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.2%

#16 in the US

Maryland - Literacy Rate Estimate

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80%

#28 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

69.8%

#30 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

9.5%

#25 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.4%

#17 in the US

Massachusetts - Literacy Rate Estimate

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82.7%

#21 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

74.9%

#21 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

8.9%

#18 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

25.3%

#4 in the US

Michigan - Literacy Rate Estimate

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82.4%

#22 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

72%

#22 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

8.7%

#19 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

19.2%

#36 in the US

Minnesota - Literacy Rate Estimate

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86.9%

#5 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

79.6%

#3 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

6.7%

#3 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

25.5%

#5 in the US

Mississippi - Literacy Rate Estimate

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72%

#48 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

56.6%

#51 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

14.7%

#49 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

15.4%

#50 in the US

Missouri - Literacy Rate Estimate

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81.1%

#25 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

70.9%

#27 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

9.4%

#26 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

19.5%

#37 in the US

Montana - Literacy Rate Estimate

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86.9%

#6 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

77.3%

#8 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

6%

#4 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.4%

#18 in the US

Nebraska - Literacy Rate Estimate

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83.6%

#17 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

75.7%

#16 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

8.4%

#20 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.2%

#19 in the US

Nevada - Literacy Rate Estimate

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74.7%

#46 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

63.5%

#46 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

13%

#46 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

17.9%

#44 in the US

New Hampshire - Literacy Rate Estimate

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88.5%

#1 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

80.9%

#1 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

6.7%

#5 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

24.5%

#7 in the US

New Jersey - Literacy Rate Estimate

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79.3%

#31 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

69.9%

#31 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

9.8%

#27 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

25.7%

#6 in the US

New Mexico - Literacy Rate Estimate

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70.9%

#51 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

60.5%

#49 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

13.5%

#47 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

16%

#47 in the US

New York - Literacy Rate Estimate

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75.6%

#45 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

65.3%

#41 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

12.8%

#43 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.2%

#20 in the US

North Carolina - Literacy Rate Estimate

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78.7%

#36 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

67.1%

#34 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

11.5%

#35 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

21.7%

#23 in the US

North Dakota - Literacy Rate Estimate

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86.6%

#7 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

79%

#4 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

6.9%

#6 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.4%

#21 in the US

Ohio - Literacy Rate Estimate

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82.3%

#23 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

71.2%

#23 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

9.2%

#28 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

18.9%

#41 in the US

Oklahoma - Literacy Rate Estimate

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79.9%

#32 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

69%

#32 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

11.5%

#36 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

18.3%

#42 in the US

Oregon - Literacy Rate Estimate

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83.2%

#18 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

75.3%

#17 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

8.8%

#21 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

22.4%

#22 in the US

Pennsylvania - Literacy Rate Estimate

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81.9%

#26 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

71.3%

#24 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

9%

#29 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

20.6%

#33 in the US

Rhode Island - Literacy Rate Estimate

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79.6%

#33 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

70.4%

#28 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

10.8%

#33 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

20.9%

#34 in the US

South Carolina - Literacy Rate Estimate

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77.6%

#39 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

65%

#42 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

11.7%

#37 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

19.6%

#38 in the US

South Dakota - Literacy Rate Estimate

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85.1%

#10 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

76.3%

#12 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

7.8%

#12 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

21.6%

#24 in the US

Tennessee - Literacy Rate Estimate

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78.3%

#37 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

66%

#39 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

11.8%

#38 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

19.2%

#39 in the US

Texas - Literacy Rate Estimate

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71.8%

#50 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

61.5%

#48 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

15.6%

#50 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

21.2%

#25 in the US

Utah - Literacy Rate Estimate

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85.5%

#11 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

77.7%

#9 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

7%

#13 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

24.1%

#8 in the US

Vermont - Literacy Rate Estimate

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87.2%

#3 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

79%

#5 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

6.5%

#7 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

26%

#2 in the US

Virginia - Literacy Rate Estimate

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81.2%

#27 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

71.6%

#25 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

9.7%

#30 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

23.5%

#10 in the US

Washington - Literacy Rate Estimate

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83.9%

#19 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

76.5%

#13 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

8.3%

#22 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

23.8%

#11 in the US

West Virginia - Literacy Rate Estimate

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79.1%

#34 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

67.2%

#35 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

12.4%

#44 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

14.2%

#51 in the US

Wisconsin - Literacy Rate Estimate

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84.7%

#13 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

75.8%

#18 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

7.4%

#14 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

21.5%

#26 in the US

Wyoming - Literacy Rate Estimate

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do_not_disturb_on

LITERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

86.4%

#8 in the US

NUMERACY RATE ESTIMATEhelp

77.5%

#10 in the US

LACK OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAhelp

6.4%

#8 in the US

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREEhelp

18.5%

#43 in the US