August 31, 2012 -- intro: You may have suspected it all along, but the data backs it up: Manhattan is, once again, the most expensive place to live in the United States.
That's according to an index of 300 cities published by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER), which found that the cost of living in the borough of Manhattan in New York City is 133.5 percent higher than the national average of 100, with an index score of 233.5. Harlingen, Texas, is the least expensive city, with a cost of living 18.4 percent below the national average.
"The top 10 most expensive cities are pretty stable, they remain almost static," said Dean Frutiger, project manager for the Cost of Living Index project at C2ER. "There's more change with the bottom."
The council has published the quarterly data for 45 years (previously, it was released by the government) and bases its information on the prices of 60 consumer goods and services in six categories: grocery items, housing, utilities, transportation, health care and miscellaneous items.
Not surprisingly, housing carries the largest weight, said Frutiger, noting that about 29 percent of our income is spent on housing. That's the reason Washington, D.C., wound its way into the top 10 this year instead of hovering around the 11th or 12th spot. "Housing prices have been hurt very badly by the recession. However, D.C.'s housing has remained relatively strong because there's a built-in market in D.C. You wouldn't believe the construction going on there relative to other cities."
So without further ado, here's a list of the seven cities with the highest cost of living out of 300 regions analyzed by C2ER.
quicklist: title: Manhattan, New York City category: Index Score: 233.5 media: 17116755 text: Just about every New Yorker is obsessed with housing. It makes sense—living space is at a premium here. According to Frutiger, C2ER usually looks at brand new homes with four or more bedrooms at about 2,400 square feet. While they're not hard to find in the outlying suburbs, they are harder to locate in major cities like Manhattan. For that reason, C2ER will have to pro-rate housing data from New York to compare to the other cities in the index.
quicklist: title: Brooklyn, New York City category: Index Score: 183.4 media: 16433221 text: Brooklyn, with a population of 2,504,700, according to the U.S. Census, is the most populous of the New York's five boroughs. It's also the second largest, which means that housing might be slightly more affordable than in Manhattan. But it's hard to know for sure, since C2ER has only been collecting data on Brooklyn for four years. But one thing is certain: "The addition of Brooklyn has kicked a few cities out," said Frutiger.
quicklist: title: Honolulu category: Index Score: 170.8 media: 16433261 text: The cost of living in Honolulu is 70.8 percent higher than the national average. One reason: "Honolulu food prices have gone up at a faster rate than the rest of the cities," said Frutiger. He suspects it has something to do with transportation costs, which have been rising steadily.
quicklist: title: San Francisco category: Index Score: 163.2 media: 16433128 text: While housing is a bit more affordable in San Francisco than in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Honolulu, transportation costs and health care were slightly more expensive than Brooklyn's, according to the data submitted to C2ER. "S.F. is usually third or fourth, because the housing is so expensive," he said. "In California it's always housing."
quicklist: title: San Jose, California category: Index Score: 156.5 media: 16433150 text: San Jose might be the epicenter of all things virtual, but in real life its costs are almost as high as San Francisco's, especially in utilities, transportation, healthcare—and, of course, housing.
quicklist: title: Queens, New York City category: Index Score: 151.4 media: 16433060 text: Queens--the largest New York City borough by area—is an expensive real estate market. Though housing prices are lower than in Brooklyn and Manhattan, grocery items, utilities, transportation and health care were higher than Brooklyn's.
quicklist: title: Stamford, Connecticut category: Index Score: 146.7 media: 16433070 text: "Everything is high in Stamford, relatively speaking. It's an upper class suburban community." It's not surprising that its cost of living is 46.7 percent higher than the national average. But though there's more ample real estate here, utilities costs are actually higher in Stamford than in Manhattan or Brooklyn.