What's the Most Literate City in America? What's the Most Literate City in America?

What's the Most Literate City in America?

by Liz Dwyer

January 14, 2011
According to the annual study of America's Most Literate Cities, Washington, D.C., has snatched the literacy crown away from perennial front runner, Seattle. Unfortunately, a closer look at the numbers reveals that nationally, key indicators of literacy are on the decline. The scores that earned D.C. the top spot in 2010 would, in 2004, only be enough to reach 7th place.

Both newspaper readership and book purchases also continue to decline—and it's not because everyone's reading online versions of the paper or downloading books to their e-reader.

Although online book purchases have grown an average of 83 percent since 2007, U.S. Census data show that book sales have declined. In 2003, purchases from traditional bookstores totaled $16.2 million. However, in 2009, all purchases from traditional bookstores—including the soy chai you bought in the cafe—and online retailers combined came to only $16.7 million.

Only 31 percent of city residents read a weekday paper and less than half read a Sunday paper, with some of the largest declines happening in Atlanta, Boston, Miami, and San Francisco. As for the impact of online versions of papers, a recent Pew report says that only 34 percent of Americans are viewing news online.

Dr. Miller also cites America's decline as the world's "college-educated leader." According to a recent College Board report, America ranks in 12 out of 36 developed nations in "the proportion of adults ages 25 to 34 with postsecondary credentials."

There is a bright spot in the data—the accessibility and usability of libraries. "Even in these economically embattled times, many cities appear to be providing their citizens with rich resources for developing and maintaining literate behaviors," says Miller.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Old Shoe Woman

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What's the Most Literate City in America?