SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Louisiana’s illiteracy rate is worse than the rest of the nation, and more than half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 cannot read above the sixth-grade level.

One out of four children in the United States grows up without learning how to read.

Most developed countries across the world have taught 99% and 100% of their citizens to ready proficiently, while more than 36 million adults in the United States lack basic literacy.

The literacy rate is 100% in Finland, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Greenland, Liechtenstein, and Uzbekistan. Russia has a 99.44% literacy rate. China’s behind them (and ahead of the United States) with 97.15% of their population reading proficiently as of 2018.

But here in the United States, only 15% of Louisiana’s lower-income students and less than half of her higher-income students can can read with proficiency.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

At least ¼ of the population in five of every six parishes in Louisiana suffers from below-basic literacy. Twenty-one percent of adults in Louisiana do not have a high school degree.

Fourth-grade testing in Louisiana shows white students are reading at a sixth grade level, Black students are reading at second grade, Latino students at third grade, and Asian students at a fifth grade reading level.


Literacy is powerful. Written words give us the ability to share scientific theories and record observations, compose songs, and learn to feel empathy for others. Through written language, we can make grandma’s fluffy biscuits long after she left this world behind, and we can construct and amend constitutions.

People who have only a basic reading level are ten times more likely to have bad health than those who can read proficiently.

Those with below basic literacy are 18 times more likely to be in bad health than those who can read proficiently.

Illiteracy is a social problem. Without being able to read, a person’s skills and abilities are incapacitated. Organization and discipline is crippled. Banking is almost impossible. And purchasing anything is difficult without basic numeracy. Communication skills are severely limited.

Helen Keller once said that when she held a beloved book in her hand, her limitations fell from her and her spirit was free. She could not hear and could not see, but through the power of written language she became an author and a journalist. In Helen’s day, it was illegal for a blind/deaf woman to marry or have children. She was saddened by many forms of discrimination and co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union.


In Caddo Parish, 28% of adults are not functionally literate. In Bossier Parish that number is 20.8%. One parish over, in Webster, that number is 30.9%.

36.5% of adults in Claiborne Parish, 31% in DeSoto Parish, 30.8% in Red River Parish, 29.4% in Bienville Parish, and 29.4% in Natchitoches Parish cannot read at a functional level.

For information on more illiteracy rates in Louisiana parishes, click here.


Two-thirds of children beginning the fifth grade who cannot already read proficiently will wind up on welfare or going to jail. A whopping 85% of juveniles in the court system are not functionally literate. High-school dropouts have five times the risk of being incarcerated.

Illiteracy takes a toll on mental health. Being illiterate is associated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression, and it’s linked with a feeling of loneliness.  

Interactions with law enforcement can make signing legal paperwork extremely difficult for those who are not literate. Fully understanding what is written on search warrants, traffic tickets, and more is important. Without literacy, tickets and charges can create severe anxiety in those who are illiterate.

In regions where portions of the population has a tendency to experience anxiety when around law enforcement, the added stressor of illiteracy is certainly not helpful psychologically.

Studies also show that people with low literacy levels have limited problem-solving skills when compared to their literate counterparts. The illiterate are less active in their communities, causing them to feel like outcasts.

Crime rates in neighborhoods where many people are not functionally literate are much worse than in neighborhoods where literacy is high.

Citizens going through anger management or substance rehabilitation courses have greater difficulty if they are illiterate. It’s hard to remember dates for appointments, court, church, school, and more.

How you can help

Does it bother you that so many Louisianians struggle with reading and writing? If so, here are a few ways you can make a difference.

World Literacy Foundation’s Ambassador Program

Aspiring literacy changemakers may apply for the World Literacy Foundation’s Youth Ambassador Program, where 1,500 people from 110 countries have already become global Changemakers for literacy.

WLF is an international non-profit organization that wants every child, regardless of where they live, to have opportunities to become literate and to have access to the books they need to grow as a reader.

The YAP is a four-month long program designed to help develop leaders who are between the ages of 16 to 30. The program equips students with the knowledge and skills needed for effective literary advocacy.

Applications to the Ambassador Program must be submitted before May 26.

Become involved with local adult learning centers

If you live in Louisiana and know someone who is struggling with literacy you can let them know about local programs that teach adults to read.

The National Literacy Directory can be quite helpful in the process, but only if you can read the words on the NLD website. That’s why it’s critical for all Louisianians who can read to watch for the signs of illiteracy in others. You can’t help someone until you realize they need help.

Volunteering to teach people who are incarcerated to read is a big way to help. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is a good place to begin your journey to helping those in the prison system.