Brain Drain

Are Seattleites really getting dumber?

By Sarah Anderson December 28, 2008 Published in the June 2008 issue of Seattle Met

YOU’D THINK WE’D all spent the past two years huffing gas. American City Business Journals, publishers of newspapers around the country, including The Puget Sound Business Journal, declared Seattle “Smartest City in America” in 2006, but by early 2008 we lost our title to Madison, Wisconsin, and plummeted to ninth place. It’s as if one day we were Einsteins, and the next we stood in a collective stupor, spittle dripping down our chins.

We wanted answers and so, with our apparently dwindling brain cells, we coaxed Seattle economist Dick Conway into taking a closer look. The problem, he says, is that the older survey used stats gathered during the 2000 census, at the peak of the dot—com boom. When the bubble burst, Conway explains, many of those “dot-comers” became “dot-goers.” And while both surveys only counted education levels of people over 25, the newest survey limited results to people younger than 64. “A lot of smart people are retiring here,” Conway says.

And then there’s the city that usurped the top spot. Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin, a school even larger than our UW, but in a town half the size of Seattle. “Who is number one is open to debate,” Conway says. One thing not open to debate: The boneheadedness of a survey conducted by American City Business Journals, which is based in 39th smartest city, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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