Math and literacy require different abilities. People often seem to have a natural facility with one but not the other. Literacy, however, is a skill that is constantly reinforced for everyone by use, while math may be applied in daily life only infrequently. For example, a day's routine may involve interaction with cereal boxes, billboards and signs, texting, magazine picture captions, menus, coupon offers, and a good book. Daily math exercises may include glancing at the speedometer, figuring how much longer it will take to get to a location with a quick detour, and calculating a tip. Most of our math is done for us by machines and much of what remains to do can be done by rough estimation. So for those who struggle with literacy, need drives motivation and constant practice makes competence achievable; for those who struggle with math, calculators relieve them of the need, the motivation, and the practice.
When someone blithers over a simple math problem, such as splitting a bill for dinner with friends, then laughs and says "I can't do math" before the whole table reaches for their phones' easy tip calculator app, the general laughter is an admission that even simple math is hard. Math failure is embarrassing, but it is so common that it is easy to find a sympathetic crowd. When someone falters at reading, such as when called on to read a passage aloud in class or at a family seder, there is no graceful way to say "I can't read" in a room full of people who can.
In reality, given sufficient time and privacy, most people can work their way through basic math problems and passages from ordinary texts. Choking under pressure is common, but the response in either situation is often different. The diner with the bill has an easy solution at hand--his calculator, or he can pass it off to a friend who can do it faster. The reader must push through the passage, revealing deficits that may become more pronounced with mental blocking and flushing cheeks. Socially incompetent neighbors may snicker or show signs of impatience, while awkwardness fills the room. The diner and the reader are both exposed and embarrassed, but the diner can laugh away his situation because he is not alone. The reader merely passes through the ordeal--general laughter would be inappropriate and even cruel.
Though math is difficult for many people, it is a fact that the more highly skilled you choose to be in any walk of life, math ability will be a factor. Math is needed to read a thermometer, double a recipe, keep score, frame a house, understand your paycheck and where all the money went, build a business, invest for your future. If you can calculate amortization on a loan, you will be able to find the best mortgage when you buy your home. To get the most out of common office programs like Excel, you need to know what formulas do. The more math you understand and can put to use, the more doors are open to you in terms of careers. At the very least, being able to count back your change will keep you from being cheated, and being able to add the tip and split a dinner bill five ways will make you the designated check handler--a position of true respect.