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One in Five Americans Struggles to Read. We Want to Understand Why.

This is not only an individual hardship but a societal crisis. We want to look at the root causes that make reading inaccessible for so many people.

Our reporters are interested in understanding how low literacy affects everyday tasks like voting. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Our team is no longer actively reporting on this issue. Thanks to all who participated. You can read stories from the series here.

One in five American adults struggles to read English at a basic level. Some have a hard time with everyday tasks like taking a driver’s test or voting. Some cannot read at all.

These 48 million people — many of whom are native English speakers who left school without the necessary reading skills — are often resourceful, finding ways to navigate a world designed for readers. But they face barriers to getting jobs, accessing social services and finding medical care. This is not just an individual hardship — it’s a collective crisis. Some police departments are having trouble recruiting people who can take entrance tests. Throughout history, American institutions have used literacy tests to exclude people from fully participating in society, including at the polls. We are reporting on similar barriers still in place.

ProPublica focuses on stories that can have a real-world impact. Our team is reporting on why reading is inaccessible to so many people; we’re looking at disinvestment in public schools and the intergenerational consequences of low literacy.

To do this right, we’d like to learn from you. We want to hear from educators, voting rights advocates, employers, health care providers, literacy experts and others who can help us understand the root causes of America’s literacy crisis and how it plays out day to day. We know some people learn to read later in life, and we would love to hear your stories, too. We also welcome introductions to people who struggle to read in ways that affect their lives. We will reach out to any low-literacy participants we’re connected with via phone.

We are committed to making our work accessible and will share this information and our stories in multiple formats. We welcome your feedback and advice.

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Asia Fields contributed reporting.

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