This study attempts to capture one critical index of our nation’s social health--the literacy of its major cities (population of 250,000 and above). This study focuses on six key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources.

This set of factors measures people's use of their literacy and thus presents a large-scale portrait of our nation’s cultural vitality. From this data we can better perceive the extent and quality of the long-term literacy essential to individual economic success, civic participation, and the quality of life in a community and a nation.

As I've mentioned before, the ranking is necessarily an interpretation of data. What matters most is not whether the rank ordering changes but what communities do to promote the kinds of literacy practices that the data track.

America's Most Literate Cities and Other Quality of Life Indicators

For the 2009 edition, I also examined how well the most literate cities fared in other quality of life surveys. What I discovered is that quality tends to be associated with quality, and highly literate cities often rank high in other quality of life metrics: Cities ranked in the top 10 most literate tend to offer the most active singles’ scenes (Boston, Seattle, Washington, and Atlanta), are safer (Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, Portland, Denver, and Cincinnati), more walk-able (Seattle, Washington, DC, Portland, Boston, and Denver), and healthier (Washington, DC and Denver). They are not, however, immune to financial hard times: only #2 Washington DC has even relatively low unemployment.

Dr. Jack Miller,
Central Connecticut State University