Have you heard! Chicago is the SEVENTH. MOST. EXPENSIVE. CITY. IN. THE. WORLD.
I heard this too. Which is weird, because I'd also heard it was merely the 31st most expensive city in America. Or maybe it was the 14th. Or the 110th most expensive city in the world. Or 42nd.
This time around the figure comes from the massive global bank UBS and there's some evidence that… not that their conclusions are invalid, per se, but that they're oriented to the kind of consumer that UBS would be familiar with.
To begin with, the report includes 71 cities, about half of which are in the developing world. About 24 are in Western Europe, depending on how you define that. There are four in the United States: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. So no San Francisco; no Seattle; no Boston. There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to their selections—which is fine, it's a survey, but it does significantly impact what "seventh in the world" means.
Start with rent—which, if you include it in their metrics, bumps Chicago up to the sixth-most expensive city in the world. The cost of a three-bedroom rental in Chicago, according to UBS? $2,960 a month, including utilities. Or 2.6 times what I paid in the three-bedroom apartment I just moved out of. $2,960 a month is about the cost of a 1,000-square-foot apartment in a top-tier downtown building.
Why so expensive? "We only looked at newly built apartments," according to the methodology. Well then.
They also factor in clothing, and according to their methodology, Chicago is the most expensive city in the world to buy women's clothing, and the second-most expensive to buy men's clothing. For men, a business suit, a blazer, a shirt, a pair of blue jeans, socks, and "a pair of outdoor shoes" will run you $1,300 (underwear isn't included; perhaps this is a new style among the elite) which seems like, well, the clothing equivalent of a three-bedroom apartment in a Class A building downtown.
Women's clothes, meanwhile, cost $1,270. Los Angeles comes strangely cheaper, in even more strange ways: a man's wardrobe costs $1,090 there, while a woman's wardrobe costs… $650, almost twice as cheap as Chicago. I have not found myself buying women's clothes in Los Angeles with any frequency so I could well be wrong, but this seems like an unrealistic disparity. Chicago is also more expensive, on both counts, than New York City. Perhaps it is because we are so famously fashionable in comparison to our coastal counterparts?
Overall, the "average" cost of living in Chicago for a family of three, according to the study, is $33,504 per year for a limited range of goods and services and $35,520 per year in rent. That adds up to a grand total of $69,024, just shy of the median household income in Lake View. The median family income for households with children in Chicago is $44,200.
As usual, the lesson is: Be wary of geeks bearing PDFs. It's not wrong, necessarily, but it is a particular sample that seems to represent a particular segment.
One data point did seem pretty realistic, though. Way down in the report, under "quality of life" where no one will care about it, is the number of paid vacation days: 14, tied with Los Angeles. (New York is oddly high at 27.) The only cities lower than that? Shanghai at seven, Bangkok at nine, Jakarta at 12, Taipei 13. That I'll definitely buy.