Life in the Big City

What does it really cost to live here, anyway?


HOW WE COMPARE So the winter makes you want to move to Miami. Or even San Francisco. How much farther does your paycheck go here? At right are measures of relative costs from the ACCRA Cost of Living Index for the third quarter of 2008. The national average in each category is scaled to 100; figures in the table are percentages of the average. For example, Chicagoans pay 108.3 percent of the national average for groceries. Sources: Council for Community and Economic Research

 

Your friends from Rockford think the price you paid for your house is horrifyingly high, but your New York friends think it’s scandalously low. Gas station signs with lower and lower numbers as you drive out of downtown make the big-city markup obvious. How does our cost of living really compare with that of other cities around the country?

As of 2008’s third quarter, Chicago ranked 39th in cost of living among the 315 urban areas included in the ACCRA Cost of Living Index, a quarterly report published by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER), formerly known as the American Chamber of Commerce Research Association. The ACCRA index combines into a single number the cost of housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, health care, and other goods and services (but not taxes). Chicago’s cold winters, warm summers, and limited energy supply make home energy costs 30 percent higher than the national average. We dole out 7 percent more for health care (a teeth cleaning is approximately $82 versus an average of $75) and only 4 percent more for services such as a haircut (a woman’s cut and blow-dry averages $33 in Chicago and a little more than $31 nationwide).

Manhattan ranks as the priciest urban area in the U.S.—94 percent more expensive than Chicago. The main reason is housing, says Dean Frutiger, a cost-of-living project manager at C2ER. A new 2,400-square-foot residence with four bedrooms averages $1.2 million in Manhattan, but only $365,380 in Chicago.

Even as home prices crash in some parts of the country, Chicago’s housing cost has stayed constant in comparison with the country as a whole. “Over the last five quarters, the housing index in Chicago has remained stable,” says Frutiger. “And it will remain fairly consistent in the future—the Midwest tends to remain more stable than other areas.”  

SHOP AROUND
The average costs of everyday items vary hugely from place to place, and not always in the way you might expect.

PIZZA
(11"-12” thin-crust pizza)
IBUPROFEN
(50 tablets, Advil)
MOVIE TICKET
Manhattan
$9.99
Americus (GA) 
$4.09
Paris (TX)
$4.25
Chicago
$10.43
Boston
$5.67
Milwaukee
$8.90
Milwaukee
$10.50
Milwaukee
$5.85
Indianapolis
$8.98
Los Angeles
$11.24
Chicago
$6.36
Minneapolis
$9.00
Decatur (IL)
$12.09
Decatur (IL)
$6.55
Chicago
$9.58
Anchorage
$12.99
Manhattan
$6.71
San Francisco
$10.19
Lafayette (IN)
$13.29
Los Angeles
$7.11
Manhattan
$11.75
Honolulu
$17.99
San Francisco
$7.79
Los Angeles
$12.05

 

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