Any list of the least expensive places to live in the U.S. usually includes such Midwestern burgs as Fort Wayne, Des Moines, Moline, Peoria, Grand Rapids and Indianapolis. Interestingly, that’s also a list of the hometowns of half the kids in a Critical Mass ride, or at a demonstration in Logan Square Park.
They know something the number crunchers at U.S. News and World Report don’t: Chicago is just as affordable as the little hometowns they fled, and more affordable than any other big city in this country – at least for renters. For the young and ambitious, no American city offers the same combination of affordability and opportunity as Chicago. The octogenarian essayist Joseph Epstein once wrote, longingly, that “Chicago seems a city for the young, a place where to be in, say, one’s early 30s seems ideal.”
Having spent my early 30s in Chicago, after moving here from Decatur, I can attest to the truth of that. Here are a few reasons living in Chicago can actually be a better bargain than in Central Illinois, not to mention New York or San Francisco.
Rents are lower than on the coasts:
East and West Coasters gasp when I tell them that, for 10 years, I paid $1,000 to live in a two-bedroom apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. (Some residents of Lincoln Park gasp, too.) According to Apartment List, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $2,610. In Los Angeles, it’s $2,050. In Chicago: $1,360.
Census data gives different numbers that tell the same story. The median gross rent from 2015-2019 in Chicago was $1,112, compared to a national median of $1,062. In New York, $1,443; Los Angeles, $1,450; SF, $1,895. Houston, nipping at Chicago’s heels in population, is cheaper, but not by much: $1,041, as is Dallas at $1,052.
Other cities more expensive than us include Boston, Seattle, Miami, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Tampa and Austin, which isn’t on a coast, but has warmer weather, better Tex-Mex food, and a better music scene. Using Craigslist, I compared apartment prices in Logan Square with a comparable neighborhood in Boston, Brighton. In Logan Square, prices range from $1,000 to $1,500. In Brighton, they’re in the $1,500 to $2,000 bracket.
You don’t need a car:
There are plenty of Midwestern cities where you’ll pay less for an apartment than you will in Chicago. Flint, Michigan, for example. Everything costs a little less in Flint. A full-course lunch at a sit-down restaurant is $7. A souvenir t-shirt is $12.50. A two-bedroom apartment in the Durant Luxury Apartments, with granite countertops and a stainless steel refrigerator, is $1,028.
Here’s the catch: you can’t live in Flint without a car. It is Vehicle City, after all. And insuring that car will cost you $325 a month! That’s on top of a loan payment, gas, maintenance, and parking fees. So there goes the $300 a month savings in rent.
It’s even worse in Detroit, where monthly auto insurance rates average $502. Add that to an average one-bedroom rent of $890, and you’ve exceeded the cost of a Chicago apartment. Detroit’s public transportation system is scandalously inadequate: the city recently built a light-rail system, the Q Line, but it’s no L or Metra: it only operates along a single street, Woodward Avenue. For obvious reasons, Detroit tries to do everything it can to make its residents drive. For a variety of reasons, Michigan has unusually high car-insurance rates, but Chicago still compares favorably to a lot of other major cities—about $150 a year cheaper than Atlanta or Minneapolis, for example, or $650 a year less than Dallas.
Chicago has the most comprehensive public transportation system in the Midwest, comparable with the much denser metros of New York, Boston, Washington and San Francisco. No wonder so many Michiganders live here. And not just Michiganders. I know a retired couple from Houston who moved to Chicago to be near their daughter, a student at Loyola, and sold both their cars. Housing is more expensive here, but overall, they find Chicago more affordable, because of the savings on transportation.
You can earn money:
Just for starters, the minimum wage in Chicago is $13.50 an hour. Do you know what the minimum wage is Indiana? It’s $7.25, which is the federal standard, and it would be zero if Indiana could get away with it. That’s life in a Red State. Wisconsin is the same. Missouri ($10.30) and Michigan ($9.65) do a little better.
Chicago’s minimum wage is not as high as Washington, D.C.’s ($15.20), but our cost of living isn’t as high as in the nation’s capital. Of course, everyone wants to earn more than minimum wage, and in Chicago, you can earn a lot more. According to Deutsche Bank, Chicago has the fifth-highest average monthly salary of any city in the world, at $4,062, exceeded in the United States by only San Francisco, New York and Boston.
You can get there from here:
Chicago is the nation’s transportation hub, which means it’s cheap to fly anywhere. I went onto Orbitz.com and compared round-trip Fourth of July weekend flights to New York City from Bloomington and Chicago. The cheapest flight from Bloomington is $544.70, and requires changing planes in O’Hare and Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport. The cheapest flight from Chicago is $327, and it’s direct.
The taxes are not that bad:
Chicago’s sales tax of 10.25 percent is pretty high. A big reason for that: Chicago has no city income tax. Unlike New York, which starts at 3.078 percent and goes up to 3.876 percent. Or Philadelphia, at 3.8712 percent. Or Detroit, at 2.4 percent. Illinois’s flat income tax rate of 4.95 percent is lower than most states charge middle-income earners.
So tell your friends in Bettendorf and Fond du Lac to move to Chicago, where it’s easier to make ends meet. But there is one thing that makes Chicago more expensive, at least than Miami or Los Angeles: you have to buy four seasons worth of clothes.
17 thoughts on “Why Chicago Is the Perfect Place to Spend Your 30s”
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Just don’t get shot, 90 shootings over the weekend of the 4th alone.
The worst thing in Chicago is winter . But it makes Summer oh so sweet. I was born and raised here and it’s home. I left to the west coast which is beautiful but it is not home. It’s cheap I pay 800 for a large studio a block from the beach and have an express bus that runs to downtown outside my buildings front door and two train stops 3 blocks from me. The city is bikeable and walkable.
The people saying the negative comments above are speaking about negative rhetoric they seen on the news. They are regurgitating crap thay have no idea what they are speaking about. Another possibility is they are scared of others who have darker skin. That is something they need to get over. Darker complections are not scary. They are beautiful. Perhaps you should try to go around with a open mind and heart and try to look at all as beautiful and stop jumping to conclusions.
To assume makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”.
Agree with all of this. My husband and I are lucky that we can rent a 1 bedroom in Edgewater for $1,165 monthly and can always count on public transportation to move around. Our friends in other cities can’t say the same. Winters do suck a bit but we still find things to do. Now that we’re closer to our 40s and wanting to buy a condo, it’s going to be a different story but still not impossible. We’ll probably move to Rogers Park.
I moved here 2 months ago, found a great paying job and trying to figure out why I left in the first place…Don’t listen to those fox news alarmist. Chicago is a wonderful city and life is what you make it, and im making a good life for myself here in a beautiful city that’s not suburban or ridiculously over priced.
I lived in a high rise in river north and just sold it. Crimes have gotten worse. I moved to the suburbs because you couldn’t go out after sunset without being harassed by people that don’t live in the area loitering, causing disturbances and committing crimes. The price wasn’t worth it but I agree i didn’t need a car living in the city the convenience was huge.
Chicago’s a liberal cesspool, gone completely to hell under progressively more and more radical democrats. Actually, these clowns ought not even be called democrats any longer, they’re straight up Marxist-Globalists. I grew up in that city, loved it. Was always a democratic bastion, but as I said, these are not democrats. These clowns are anti-American zealots.
I don’t want to feed the trolls, but cannot resist noting that you clearly have not been to the city in years. There are problems, but if there is one thing Chicago clearly is not, its a cesspool.
You will never find a 1 bed in the safe areas of chicago for a $1,000. This dude didn’t say when he lived here, just yrs ago. People always incorporate all of Chicago when averaging prices when everyone knows there’s just a tiny portion of Chicago in which you can live that is considered safe. U should only factor in those prices to get the real cost. There. Tax is not just 10.25% it goes higher in the loop. In recent yrs the safe areas has had gangs and gun shots. It turning. The riots have come up to the good areas. Since george floyd there’s all these rumors that the blacks are going to come up to the white areas and break in to homes to steal. Fuck chicago. It’s all turning to be as bad as the southside
you seem nice
You’re a dumbass and you clearly don’t live in Chicago. I pay $1100 per month for a pretty nice one bedroom apartment in one of the best neighborhoods in the city. The nice neighborhoods aren’t turning bad as you stated either. In fact, if anything the pieces of shit in the bad neighborhoods are being pushed out of the city Through gentrification.
I pay 1100 for a 2br CH in Wicker Park. Rogers Park is p cheap too. ¯\(°_O)/¯
“Blacks are going to come up to the white areas” Lort, dude, please leave Chicago. We don’t want ppl like you here anyway.
Rude. And not true.
I have a 2bdrm in hyde park for $1200. You have to look. I’ve been in Chicago all of my life. Also, the gangs are the police officers. They troll areas that are in poverty and find ways to put cases on us. I know for sure. I do not do drugs, raised in church, a mother, yet I watched the superintendent pull drugs from his pocket when I pulled over to put on me. Smh a lot of the shootings and car jackings are either officers in plain clothes, kids controlled by an adult who knows that the kid would have less time in jail or some idiot. Please do not it all on blacks. Life is already much harder, as we fight against racism, lower wages, poverty and respect
If by radical you mean attempting to address racial inequity that previous generations (eg yours) and politicians ignored or willfully made worse, then I suppose it is radical. You probably also whine about crime in Chicago, which is also a side effect of this same problem. So if Chicago is a cesspool, it’s because it was made that way by those that came before. Those there now are cleaning up after you.
Ok you can go back to Fox News now.
I moved to Chicago from Seattle and felt like I returned to reality…especially pricewise.
No place in the country offers the Chicago package for the price.
The weather can suck at times, but its just a great all around city to live in.
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