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Explaining the Cost of Living Myth

By Brad Whitehead, Fund for Our Economic Future

Community Leader magazine

Read virtually any promotional brochure or talk to almost any resident about the benefits of Northeast Ohio, and cost of living is likely to rise to the top of the list. With incomes roughly in line with all but the biggest cities in the rest of the country and housing costs low, most working people in Northeast Ohio can live in relative splendor, the argument goes.  

The argument is half right. 

Housing costs are relatively less expensive in Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown, their suburbs and the spaces in between. At the end of 2015, the median home price in Greater Cleveland was $110,000 and in Greater Akron $93,000, compared with $215,000 in the nation as a whole. Look at our cost of housing in conjunction with incomes, and we see that Greater Clevelanders typically spend 30 percent of their income on housing, and, while that is more than the 27 percent typically spent nationally, it’s less than the 32 percent, 33 percent and 37 percent spent respectively in Greater Boston, Greater Chicago and Greater New York, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology.    

But here’s the dirty little secret: When you include transportation costs, we don’t look so good. Again, according to CNT, Greater Clevelanders typically spend 55 percent of income on housing and transportation combined compared with 40 percent of income typically spent by the nation as a whole. And here is the real kicker: We spend a greater share of our income on housing and transportation than do residents of Greater Boston, Greater Chicago or Greater New York. 

How did this happen?

Over the last few decades, our region has expanded outward without the population and job growth that would justify such expansion. As a result, all residents — urban, suburban, rural — have experienced a steep decline in the number of jobs around them. As researched by the Brookings Institution, the number of jobs within a typical commuting distance of Greater Clevelanders fell by 26 percent from 2000 to 2012 — a decline in proximate jobs measurably worse than anywhere else in the U.S.

See full story here.