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America's Most (and Least) Literate Cities

For the third year in a row, Washington, D.C., was rated the most literate city in the United States, with Seattle and Minneapolis close behind. That is according to a study conducted by Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) of the literacy of the nation’s largest cities.

The study ranked the cities based on six dimensions of literacy, including size of library systems, presence of bookstores, educational attainment, digital readership, circulation of newspapers and other publications. The most literate cities in the country were often, but not always, in tech-heavy regions with highly educated populations. Based on the university’s report, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most and least literate cities in the country.

Click here to see the 10 most literate cities

Click here to see the 10 least literate cities

According to Dr. John W. Miller, CCSU president and head of this study, the goal of the report, America’s Most Literate Cities, was not to examine whether people can read, but if they actually do read. “There’s a lot of emphasis on whether people can read; this is more about whether people practice literate behavior,” Miller said.

A review of industry composition from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the most literate cities shows that, for the most part, they have a large proportion of high-paying jobs that require a college education, and cities that rank poorly do not.

Of the 10 most literate cities, the majority have many residents in management, scientific fields and in professions requiring a high level of educational attainment. These areas are not necessarily the wealthiest in the country by median income, but which have a large population of high-earning individuals — the type that, according to Miller, tend to be more literate. Atlanta, for example, which is one of the most literate cities in the country, ranked 43rd in median income among major cities in 2011, but was fifth for the proportion of adults earning more than $200,000 per year.

Dr. Miller explained that cities with highly educated professionals tend to score better for obvious reasons: “If you’re a limited English speaker, and you’re working three jobs to make a living, chances are you’re not going to a bookstore, you don’t subscribe to a newspaper, and chances are you’re not using the library too much.”

Most of the highly literate cities fit the description above, but some buck the trend. People might think that San Jose would fit the mold of a high-income, literate city, given its tech background, but that is not the case according to Dr. Miller. While it is fourth-highest in the country in Internet reading, it ranks 59th for bookstores, 69th for libraries and among the 10 worst for journals and magazines. Cleveland, a low-income, high-poverty city with poor educational levels and a lack of high-paying professional jobs, is number one in libraries, with more branches per capita than anywhere else in the country.

Based on the report published by Central Connecticut State University, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the literacy ranking of the 76 U.S. cities with populations of 250,000 or more. According to the study, cities received a literacy score on six categories — library systems, bookstores, educational attainment, digital readership, newspapers and other publications. Each score was ranked on the availability of the category or circulation relative to the size of the population. 24/7 Wall St. also reviewed 2011 data from the Census Bureau, including income, poverty, educational attainment, and the percentage of workers employed in various job types.

These are America’s most and least literate cities.

America’s Most Literate Cities

10. Portland, Ore.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 38.50 (23rd highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 42.9% (10th highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 1.85 (27th most)
> Median income: $47,033 (31st highest)

Portland is one of the most educated cities in the United States. Among adults at least 25 years old, 90.2% had a high school diploma — the eighth-highest percentage of all large cities considered. Also, 42.9% had a college degree, versus 28.5% nationwide. Portland had one of the highest per capita totals of bookstores and booksellers. The city’s library system was also active, with the highest circulation of books per capita of any large city. However, newspaper circulation remained light for a top-ranked city.

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9. St. Louis, Mo.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 56.21 (10th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 28.2% (34th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 2.92 (13th most)
> Median income: $32,570 (7th lowest)

St. Louis ranked third in terms of library resources, which takes into account the number of libraries and the number of books carried by them. The city also ranked second for publishing, with a high circulation of magazines and journals. The one area where St. Louis scored relatively poorly was in educational attainment, ranking 45th out of the 76 cities. Nearly 84% of adults aged 25 and over had a high-school diploma as of 2011, while just over 28% had at least a bachelor’s degree — both below the national rate.

8. Atlanta, Ga.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 50.37 (14th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 47.2% (5th highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 3.10 (12th most)
> Median income: $43,903 (32nd highest)

Atlanta ranked in the top 10 in four categories of literacy: bookstores, education, newspapers and publications. While Atlanta proper is not particularly wealthy — the city’s median household income in 2011 was just $43,903, compared to $50,502 for the U.S. as a whole — the surrounding areas are. And many commuters in the suburbs go to the city to take advantage of its libraries and bookstores. In addition, many of the city’s residents are highly educated. More than 47% of Atlanta’s population had at least a bachelor’s degree, the fifth-highest percentage of all major cities.

7. Boston, Mass.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 52.35 (13th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 42.7% (11th highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 2.48 (17th most)
> Median income: $49,081 (25th highest)

Boston had a higher level of Internet readership than other cities — with a higher proportion of residents reading online or reading e-books. Not many cities in the U.S. had as many periodical publishers such as magazines and scholarly journals. The city of Boston is well known for its higher education, with more than 50 colleges and universities in the area. However, access to a quality education is not evenly distributed. In 2011, 42.7% of Boston residents over age 25 had a bachelor’s degree, one of the highest rates among large cities in the United States. Yet just 84% of adult Boston residents had earned at least a high school diploma, below the nationwide rate of 85.9%.

6. St. Paul, Minn.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 67.72 (6th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 36.5% (21st highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 4.96 (6th most)
> Median income: $42,069 (24th lowest)

St. Paul ranked the highest among all cities for the number and variety of bookstores. The city also ranked seventh-highest in both newspaper readership and publication circulation. St. Paul, a city of less than 300,000 residents, had 17 journals with a circulation of more than 500 readers, which is very high for all but the largest cities. Weekday newspaper circulation was just under 200,000, as of the most recent report from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, while Sunday newspaper circulation was more than 272,000. That circulation-to-population ratio was higher than all but five other large cities.

5. Denver, Colo.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 66.56 (7th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 43.0% (9th highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 1.82 (28th most)
> Median income: $47,371 (29th highest)

Denver residents are among the nation’s most active online readers. According to CCSU, the city’s readers received top scores for using online resources for reading, whether ordering books, viewing newspapers online or using e-book readers. Denver residents are avid print newspaper readers as well, as measured by total newspaper circulation, for which the city ranked sixth in the nation. Denver also has one of the nation’s best library systems, as measured by the number of books, facilities and staff per capita. According to the Denver Public Library, a $68 million increase in Denver’s city budget will allow the library system to increase its hours by 40% in 2013.

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4. Pittsburgh, Pa.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 56.71 (9th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 33.1% (26th highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 2.67 (15th most)
> Median income: $35,947 (13th lowest)

Pittsburgh performed extremely well in every category measured, with the exception of Internet usage, for which it ranked 42nd among the cities. Pittsburgh is not a particularly wealthy city, with a 2011 median income of $35,947, compared to the national median of $50,502. However, the city also has very little poverty, with just 10.4% of residents living below the poverty line, versus 15.1% nationwide. The city’s libraries and booksellers are among its biggest strengths. Pittsburgh has more independent bookstores, relative to population, than any city in the country.

3. Minneapolis, Minn.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 77.44 (3rd highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 46.5% (6th highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 4.13 (9th most)
> Median income: $46,682 (33rd highest)

Only Oakland, Calif., and neighboring St. Paul. had more bookstores per capita than Minneapolis. In addition, city residents are among the most likely in the nation to read a newspaper — the city had the nation’s second highest per-capita Sunday circulation, and the third-highest weekday circulation. Minneapolis remains one of the nation’s most educated as well. In 2011, 88.2% of adults over 25 had a high school diploma and 46.5% had a college degree — both among the nation’s better rates for large cities. Many workers are also employed in fields requiring higher education, such as professional, scientific and management occupation, which together employ 16.3% of residents — the eighth-highest among all major cities.

2. Seattle, Wash.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 35.71 (24th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 56.2% (the highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 2.05 (22nd most)
> Median income: $61,037 (7th highest)

Seattle ranks among the top 10 of all 76 cities measured in every literacy category except newspaper circulation. Seattle is second in the country in the educational attainment category, which considers both the percentage of residents with a high school degree and the percentage with at least a bachelor’s degree. More than 56% of the population over the age of 25 in 2011 had at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest percentage among all the major cities. Seattle was also among the top 10 for adults with a high school education, at more than 92%. More than 13% of households earned more than $200,000 in 2011, the fourth-highest percentage among all cities. Meanwhile, the median household income that year was $61,037, seventh-highest of all cities.

1. Washington, D.C.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 74.79 (4th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 52.5% (3rd highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 1.94 (24th most)
> Median income: $63,124 (6th highest)

For the third consecutive year, Washington ranked as the most literate city in the nation. Among all cities, Washington ranked number one in the use of online literature resources. Especially impressive: the city has the highest relative number of households with an e-book reader of any major city in the nation. Washington also has more magazines with a circulation of 2,500 or more, and more journals with a circulation of 500 or more, per capita than any other major city in the nation. As of 2011, 52.5% of residents had a college degree — third-highest among large U.S. cities. The city also has more high-earning households than any major city in the country, with close to one in four earning more than $200,000.

America’s Least Literate Cities

10. Long Beach, Calif.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 16.61 (52nd highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 28.8% (37th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 3.20 (11th most)
> Median income: $51,214 (17th highest)

Long Beach, part of the Greater Los Angeles Area, was ranked the 10th-least literate city in 2012. One area, however, in which the city performed relatively well was bookstores. It ranked 29th out of the 76 cities in this category, and had the 11th most retail bookstores per capita. In most of the other categories, Long Beach performed very poorly. Most notably, the city received the worst possible score awarded for Internet reading. It also had among the worst scores for the presence of publications and journals. The city’s poor literacy score, however, cannot be blamed on a lack of wealthy individuals as it had a higher-than-average median income in 2011, as well as the eighth-highest median home value among the nation’s largest cities.

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9. Mesa, Ariz.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 0
> Pct. adults with college degree: 23.1% (16th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 2.22 (21st most)
> Median income: $44,527 (37th lowest)

Mesa was tied with Stockton for the lowest per capita circulation of magazines and journals. Residents also lacked critical access to library facilities. The city was one of the nation’s worst performers for library volume, circulation and professional staff. In a city of 440,232 people, mesa had just three public branches. However, in mid-2012 Mesa reversed funding cuts to the city’s library system initiated in 2009 due to the recession.

8. Aurora, Colo.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 0
> Pct. adults with college degree: 26.9% (29th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 4.06 (10th most)
> Median income: $49,593 (23rd highest)

Aurora’s library system ranked second-worst among the nation’s large cities, behind only Santa Ana. At less than 0.5 library books per person, the library’s collection is the smallest of any city measured, relative to the size of its population. Further, the library has just three branches for more than 330,000 residents. According to the CCSU study, just one journal with more than 500 readers and two magazines with more tha 2,500 readers are published in Aurora County. By comparison, the university listed 357 such publications in Washington, D.C.

7. Fresno, Calif.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 21.04 (43rd highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 19.1% (7th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.74 (15th least)
> Median income: $40,533 (20th lowest)

Fresno scored in the lower half of all literacy-related categories, including several among the bottom. The city scored fifth from last for the number of journals and magazines. Fresno also tied with Miami for third from last in educational attainment: about 74% of the city’s residents aged 25 and over had a high school diploma in 2011, while about 19% had a bachelor’s degree. Both figures were among the lowest of all 76 cities measured. The low education levels have led to lower incomes. Nearly 29% of the population was below the poverty line in Fresno, ranking it among the 10 major cities with the highest poverty rate. The median income of $40,533 in 2011 was roughly $10,000 less than the median across the country.

6. San Antonio, Texas
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 10.08 (67th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 25.0% (23rd lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.45 (tied-2nd least)
> Median income: $42,613 (26th lowest)

San Antonio’s score in each of the six categories was low, but it scored particularly poorly in the presence of libraries and book retailers. The city had the seventh-lowest number of library branches per capita, and the second-lowest number of retail bookstores per capita among the largest cities. San Antonio also received a poor score for online reading, although the city may be on track to changing this. San Antonio is planning to open an entirely digital library, which will allow patrons to download digital books to their e-readers.

5. Anaheim, Calif.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: N/A
> Pct. adults with college degree: 24.5% (22nd highest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 5.19 (5th highest)
> Median income: $56,858 (10th highest)

Anaheim scored badly in several key categories for literacy. It ranked among the lowest of all large cities in terms of newspaper circulation. In addition, it was of one of several cities to receive the lowest ranking in Internet readership, indicating that people were not reading news or books digitally. The only area where Anaheim scored relatively well was in the number of booksellers per capita, ranking above nearly two-thirds of all major cities. Only 74% of the population over the age of 25 had a high school diploma as of 2011, the fifth-lowest of all cities with populations over 250,000.

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4. El Paso, Texas
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 9.92 (68th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 22.5% (15th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.36 (the least)
> Median income: $40,702 (22nd lowest)

El Paso ranked in the bottom 10 of all cities in four of the six categories measuring literacy. Notably, El Paso ranked dead last for the total number of bookstores — independent, used, rare and retail — relative to the population of the city. In addition, the city ranked third from the bottom in terms of publication circulation and among the bottom in terms of newspaper circulation. Educational attainment in El Paso was also among the bottom 10 major cities. Just 76.4% of El Paso adults had at least a high-school education in 2011, compared to 85.9% of the United States as a whole. Meanwhile, only 22.5% of adults had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28.5% of the population.

3. Stockton, Calif.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 10.35 (66th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 17.3% (6th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.57 (6th least)
> Median income: $44,310 (36th lowest)

The city of Stockton ranked among the bottom in nearly all categories of literacy. For instance, it ranked among the worst in the circulation of publications and journals. Further, in 2011, only about three in four residents at least 25 years old had a high school education, and just over 17% had a college degree — both measures among the lowest of all large U.S. cities. This is apparent in the income of Stockton’s residents: more than one in four lived below the poverty line in 2011, compared to just under 16% in the country as a whole. The percentage of people working in the generally low-paying retail field, at 14.2%, was the third-highest percentage of all cities measured in 2011.

2. Corpus Christi, Texas
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 13.45 (63rd highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 22.1% (12th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.45 (tied-2nd least)
> Median income: $44,893 (37th highest)

Corpus Christi produces fewer non-newspaper publications than almost all other large cities in the United States. No magazines with a circulation of more than 2,500 are published there, while just one journal with a circulation exceeding 500 is published in the city. Further, there were just 21 bookstores in the city of 300,000, according to Miller’s study. Additionally, the city’s library resources were rated among the worst in the nation, largely due to a limited number of volumes and staff.

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1. Bakersfield, Calif.
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 11.19 (64th highest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 20.1% (9th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.54 (4th least)
> Median income: $51,667 (14th highest)

Bakersfield, Calif. was ranked the least literate among American cities with a population of more than 250,000. The city ranked among the bottom 10 cities in all six categories measured. It was third from the bottom for booksellers and third from the bottom for periodicals like newspapers and journals. The literacy ranking may be a reflection of the professional positions of the city’s residents. Only 8.2% of the population worked in professional, scientific and management positions in 2011, the fifth-lowest percentage of all cities. Nearly 10% of the city worked in agriculture, forestry, hunting and mining, the highest of all cities measured.

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