Special Report

America's Most (and Least) Literate Cities

5. San Antonio, TX
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 9.4 (11th lowest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 24.3% (18th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.61 (2nd least)
> Median income: $45,524 (35th lowest)

San Antonio had fewer bookstores per 10,000 residents than all but one other city.For the city’s nearly 1.4 million inhabitants, there were just 85 retail bookstores in 2013. There were more media specialists working at San Antonio’s 26 library branches than in most other cities. However, they were likely spread thin because there were also more students and a much larger library population being served by local libraries than in many other cities.

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4. El Paso, TX
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 10.8 (15th lowest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 22.8% (13th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.46 (the least)
> Median income: $40,974 (21st lowest)

The few magazines published in El Paso collectively had among the lowest circulation rates among large cities, and not one journal had a circulation of at least 500 people in 2013. There were also less bookstores available to El Paso’s residents than in any other city last year. Low education rates of the city’s residents may partly explain the low demand for bookstores. Among El Paso adult population, less than one quarter had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, worse than most other cities. In 2009, Texas A&M University conducted a study that showed nearly 20% of Texans were unable to read and understand newspaper.

3. Stockton, CA
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 9.4 (12th lowest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 17.9% (6th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.84 (7th least)
> Median income: $43,321 (27th lowest)

With among the lowest circulation rates in the nation, Stockton ranked worse than nearly every other city for its publications and for its library system. The city also had no magazine and journal publications in 2013. For the entire library population, including more than 47,000 students, there was also just one media specialist that year per 1,000 students. According to Dr. Miller, a large immigrant population may be related to a poor reading culture. In 2012, more than 23% of Stockton residents were foreign-born, versus 13% for the nation as a whole.

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2. Corpus Christi, TX
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 12.4 (16th lowest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 19.8% (8th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.67 (3rd least)
> Median income: $49,336 (24th highest)

Many cities in Texas tend to have poor reading habits. And this is particularly true in Corpus Christi. Lower than average library spending in Texas can partly explain the state’s poor literacy scores, according to the Texas Library Association. Corpus Christi’s six library branches served more than 300,000 people and were relatively understaffed. Another factor in the city’s poor showing could be low education attainment rates. Less than one in five adults in Corpus Christi had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, among the lowest proportions compared with other large cities.

1. Bakersfield, CA
> Weekday newspaper circulation per 100: 10.1 (14th lowest)
> Pct. adults with college degree: 20.5% (9th lowest)
> Retail bookstores per 10,000: 0.84 (6th least)
> Median income: $53,693 (12th highest)

Bakersfield was the worst city in the U.S. for its overall reading culture. The city was among the worst in the nation for access to bookstores, as well as subscriptions to magazines and scholarly journals. There were just two magazines with at least 2,500 subscriptions in the city in 2013 and no journal publications at all. There was just one independent bookstore in the city last year and just 30 retail book outlets for the city’s more than 350,000 residents. The city’s library system was also poor rated, with low circulation rates and understaffing. Low demand for reading materials could reflect low educational attainment rates — just 77% of adults had a high school diploma in 2012, among the worst nationally.

Click here to see America’s Most Literate Cities