Got Literacy? Study Reveals the Most Literate American Cities

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This month, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (UWW) released a new study, "America's Most Literate Cities," which provides a literacy ranking of America's 64 largest cities. Topping the list was Minneapolis, with Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, and San Francisco rounding out the top five.

In a press statement, UWW Chancellor and Education Professor Jack Miller, the report's author, said he conducted the study because "Americans are actively interested in issues affecting their quality of life and how that quality varies from place to place. Like education, environment, and public health, literacy is an important dimension to the life of a city and its residents. This study looks at many of the common bookmarks of a literate community."

The study rates the most and least literate cities in the United States and analyzes factors directly relating to the literacy of communities and their populations. Cities were ranked in five different categories: educational attainment, booksellers, daily newspaper readership, public libraries, and periodicals.

Each category was comprised of a number of variables. For instance, in the category "Booksellers," a city's ultimate ranking was based on the following variables: number of American Booksellers Association member stores, number of rare and used booksellers, and total number of retail booksellers. Each of these was then divided by the city population in order to calculate a ratio of booksellers to population. Overall, Miller used 13 variables to rank the literacy of a city. (To see the full report, go to

All of the statistics were weighted against the overall city population to provide a balanced comparison of resources available per capita, Miller said. "By defining literacy through many sources," he said, "the study helps overcome anomalies where a city might rank extremely high or low in one category. Most of the top 10 cities fared well across many or all of the five categories." To be ranked, a city had to have a population of 250,000 or more.

The final rankings are sure to surprise many people. For one thing, while New York might be one of the world's top cultural centers, the Big Apple didn't even crack the top 40 in literacy, coming in at 47, lagging behind Arlington, Texas, and Chicago. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Louisville, Kentucky, were ranked sixth and eighth, respectively, and Las Vegas was in the top 15.

The top 10 most literate cities, according to the UWW study, are:

  1. Minneapolis, Minnesota
  2. Seattle, Washington
  3. Denver, Colorado
  4. Atlanta, Georgia
  5. San Francisco, California
  6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  7. Washington, D.C.
  8. Louisville, Kentucky
  9. Portland, Oregon
  10. Cincinnati, Ohio

The 10 least literate cities are:

  1. El Paso, Texas
  2. Corpus Christi, Texas
  3. Long Beach, California
  4. Detroit, Michigan
  5. San Antonio, Texas
  6. Santa Ana, California
  7. Memphis, Tennessee
  8. Jacksonville, Florida
  9. Fresno, California
  10. Toledo, Ohio