Living High and Low

Economics Housing

New Orleans       Time flies by, and you realize you haven’t had a raise in four years, even as inflation as decreased the buying power of those dollars by more than 23% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meaning essentially, you’re only making about 80% of what you remembered.  Average pay now is over $65,000 per worker, which seems unbelievable.  That’s good money!  Social Security payments were indexed to some degree, so maybe that helped many, even as costs escalated.  Union contracts improved in many cases.  We even had employers top off our own proposed numbers in some nursing homes.

Still, why didn’t we notice it more?  Maybe because costs of living are relative.  I looked at a report recently from something called Creditnews Research which had analyzed data from MIT’s Living Wage Institute.  They ranked the largest metropolitan areas based on something they called “minimum ‘living income’ thresholds.”  Eight spending areas were factored into the formula:  childcare, civic engagement, food, healthcare, housing, internet and mobile, transportation, and other necessities, like clothing and school costs.

The big hitters didn’t contain many surprises.  As always, San Jose and San Francisco metros were the most expensive followed by the Boston area, Bridgeport-Stamford in the New York City suburbs, urban Honolulu, and then San Diego in the top six.  Perhaps surprising to some, New York City area was in seventh place.  Seeing New York there brought back memories.  For a while, ACORN added a cost-of-living percentage to the basic salary scale to try and achieve some semblance of equity across all of our offices.  San Jose was always number one along with the Bay Area, and our New York based staff would never believe it.  We ended up getting rid of COLA, since it made no one happy, and just raising everyone high enough to end the complaints and get on with it.  Seattle, the Los Angeles suburban metro around Oxnard and Venture, and finally Denver rounded out the top ten.

Closer to home, it was easier to understand why we weren’t having to go beg on the streets.  New Orleans, where I call home, was firmly sitting in the eighth least expensive metro living area.  I also am regularly in Arkansas and Mississippi, our neighboring states.  The Little Rock metro is the fourth-cheapest area to live on this scale, and the Jackson, Mississippi metro is the third cheapest.  The absolute cheapest is the McAllen, TX metro, but I wonder if all of Elon Musk’s mess down in that area might drive it up in coming years?  El Paso is number two.  Florida areas around Lakeland and Daytona are five and ten.  Wichita, Kansas has number seven, Augusta, Georgia is at six, and Knoxville, Tennessee is at nine.

The numbers that still surprise are the annual incomes behind these numbers.  To make it at the minimum in San Jose, you need $167,000 and more than $40 an hour with both parents working.  To make it in Little Rock, you have to pull down $93,000+ annually at $22.52 per hour, and in New Orleans it takes $96,500 at $23.20 per hour.

Because of the luck of the living draw and not paying attention, I was behind the eight-ball.  If you wonder why inflation is still a huge political issue, you can think about those numbers and look at your own pay stubs, and you’ll get it pretty quickly.