Gem City Affordability?
Where Erie County ranks in cost of living
As the temperatures plunge and the snow piles up, many Erieites settle in for some serious soul-searching — Why do we live here?!
It's a question often asked of us by outsiders, too. Why here versus there versus anywhere? If we were to inventory our answers, it's a good bet that many of them would make at least some mention of affordability. If we were to judge by bar tabs alone, then yes — Erie is undeniably more affordable than many other cities. But forget going out — is it cheaper to actually live in?
SmartAsset Advisors, a wholly owned subsidiary of Financial Insight Technology, recently opened access to their 2022 cost of living calculator, and the data offers a less definitive conclusion.
What factors into the cost of living?
Cost of living is a tabulation of all the things we must pay for in order to secure shelter, food, and overall health for ourselves and our dependents. It adds up quickly, and many households do not have much leftover as discretionary income after paying for their necessities. The more they do, the more purchasing power they have as consumers, bolstering the local economy.
So even if a place has a low cost of living, a low per capita income can offset any advantages thereof, limiting consumer purchasing power and a local economy. There are a lot of auxiliary costs to consider beyond the food, shelter, and healthcare costs themselves, such as:
- Transportation — although remote arrangements work wonderfully for some industries, reliable transportation to physically commute to and from a job remains a prerequisite for many others.
- Taxes — Taxes applied toward sales, income, and property at a local and state level can have tremendous impact on cost of living.
- Education and childcare — These may not be applicable to everyone, but anyone with kids knows that tuition and childcare costs don't come cheaply.
- "Extras" — This category includes things like clothing, sundries, and household cleaning products; not urgent for survival, but essential to being healthy, hygienic, and presentable.
Erie County vs. the United States
It may surprise you that Erie County's cost of living ($37,718) is only very slightly lower than the national average ($37,925). Meanwhile, the average person in Erie County brings home nearly $10,000 less annually ($50,536) than the average American citizen ($59,510). Because of this, Erie County (Pa.) ranked 1,938th among 3,143 counties across the United States in SmartAsset's cost of living index.
For comparison, Hudspeth County (Texas) had the lowest cost of living ($27,500) in the United States. Precipitated by a recent real estate rush by the super-wealthy, Teton County (Wyo.) had the country's highest per capita income ($220,645) and purchasing power (by virtue of the per capita income being nearly triple the cost of living, $71,267) this year — eclipsing that of even New York, N.Y.
Erie County vs. Pennsylvania
On the state level, Erie County wasn't especially more affordable than anywhere else, ranking 40th out of 67 counties. Sparsely populated Forest County had Pennsylvania's lowest cost of living in 2022 at $29,249, although that is negated by very low per capita income ($28,271). Pennsylvanians in the vicinity of the state's largest cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh had the highest per capita income (led by Chester County at $91,927/yr), and generally the most purchasing power.
Erie profiled somewhat better economically than its neighboring counties when it came to spending money, but similarly overall to Northwest Pennsylvania. Here's how they stacked up:
- Erie County: $50,536 per capita income (33rd), $37,718 cost of living (40th), 48th in purchasing power
- Warren County: $46,793 per capita income (56th), $35,206 cost of living (20th), 51st in purchasing power
- Crawford County: $46,356 per capita income (57th), $34,462 cost of living (6th), 46th in purchasing power
Erie County vs. the Tri-State Area
Here's how Erie County compared nationally in these indices versus our interstate neighbors.
- Erie County (Pa.): $50,536 per capita income (1102nd U.S.), $37,718 cost of living (1938th), 1002nd in purchasing power
- Chautauqua County (N.Y.): $45,357 per capita income (1761st), $36,262 cost of living (1436th), 1662nd in purchasing power
- Ashtabula County (Ohio): $43,597 per capita income (2015th), $34,194 cost of living (1430th), 1493rd in purchasing power
Life's not cheap, even here in Erie. While we do not pay the premiums on dining and entertainment that people do in larger cities, we do contend with higher costs for heating and fuel (Pennsylvania has one of the highest fuel taxes in the U.S.), while feeling the same sting of inflation for our essential purchases.
By generating better, higher-paying jobs and educating a more qualified workforce to fill them, our collective purchasing power — and our local economy will ascend the ranks of similar studies in the future.
Matt Swanseger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
To see the full study, visit smartasset.com