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April 2014

Most Literate Cities

Seattle No. 2

April 2014 - NWREporter

Seattle retained its ranking as the 2nd most literate city in America, according to an annual study conducted by Central Connecticut State University.

Washington, D.C. holds the top ranking, a position it claimed in 2009 when it dethroned Seattle. The study, now in its 11th year, used six key indicators of literacy to rank cities with populations of more than 250,000. Those criteria include newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and internet resources.

Reporting on the findings, one Seattle-based journalist, noted the Emerald City is "poised to become the next big digital-publishing powerhouse" and could reclaim the top spot.

As the chart shows, the most literate cities tended to be in the Northeast and generally had a well-educated and well-paid population. Seattle, with 57.7 percent of its population holding a college degree, was the highest among cities in the survey.

5 Most Literate Cities in the U.S.

RankWeekday newspaper circulation per 100Percent of adults with college degreeRetail bookstores per 10,000Median income
1. Washington D.C.68.253.0%2.23$66,583
2. Seattle38.057.7%3.21$64,473
3. Minneapolis MN76.546.85.24$47,604
4. (tie) Atlanta GA56.247.44.46$46,466
4. (tie) Pittsburgh PA50.038.42.39$39,884

Rounding out the top 10 were Denver, at No. 6, St. Paul, Boston, St. Louis and San Francisco.

Nine of the 10 most literate cities were in the top quartile nationwide for the percentage of people with at least a bachelor's degree. (Educational attainment was indexed with two variables:  the percentage of the adult population with a high school diploma or higher and the percentage of the adult population with a bachelor's degree or higher.)

Dr. John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, authored the study. Commenting on the findings, he said a well-read city should not just be made up of degree-holders. He also emphasized the focus was not on reading test scores, but on reading culture. "This isn't about whether or not people can read, it's about whether they do read," Miller said.

Cities with a large portion of college-educated residents can slip in the rankings if, simultaneously, many other residents fail to complete high school.

Cities that fared poorly on the ranking tended to have less education. The 10 cities with the worst reading habits were in the bottom quartile nationwide when considering the percentage of people with a college degree and the percentage of residents with a high school diploma.

Miller also noted correlations between literacy and types of jobs. "Cities that are at the bottom have lower levels of business formation, lower levels of good jobs, and therefore lower salaries, he stated. These cities also had among the 10 lowest proportions of professional occupations.

Conversely, Miller reported, cities that are more successful in terms of business development also have a more educated population and higher incomes. Cities must have the jobs necessary to bring in or retain a talented work force, he suggested. He noted high-paying professional, scientific and management occupations are especially prominent, with Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. being in the top five cities for such jobs.

Some cities still scored well despite lower income levels. For example, Miller singled out New Orleans, which was in the top quartile for literacy even though its median household income, at $34,361, was well below the U.S. median of $51,731.

Of the five least literate cities, three were in Texas and two were in California. The list includes the Texas cities of San Antonio, El Paso, and Corpus Christi, plus Stockton, Calif. and Bakersfield, also in California. Bakersfield was deemed to be the worst city in the country for its overall reading culture. It earned the dubious distinction of being among the worst in the U.S. for access to bookstores and subscriptions to periodical publications. Bakersfield was also among the worst major cities nationally for educational attainment.

The study's author said he found clear, major regional differences in reading habits and resources for reading. While nearly 90 percent of cities representing New England and the Mid-Atlantic states are above the median for literate behaviors, 86 percent of cities in the Southwest region (Texas, Arizona and New Mexico) fell below the median.

Miller told USA Today he plans to study the world next year to compile a list of the most literate countries.