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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

November 12, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Is Seattle one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.?

What are you paying for a haircut in Seattle? (Photo: Gene Balk/The Seattle Times)

I recently got my hair cut at the same place that I always go to on Capitol Hill (same place everyone goes to, judging by the line).  I got a standard haircut, same as always.  But did it always cost $29?  I don’t remember it being that expensive.

After my sticker shock, it didn’t surprise me all that much to come across this peculiar statistic in the newly-released Cost of Living Index: Seattle ranks second out of 304 U.S. cities for the cost of a haircut.  A barbershop cut in Seattle costs, on average, even more than it does in Manhattan — it’s 66 percent more expensive here than the average for U.S. cities.

Weird, huh?  But after looking over all the data on consumer costs in the report, I think Seattle haircuts are just an outlier.  Out of 57 goods and services — everything from home prices and doctors visits to movie tickets and dry cleaning — a haircut is Seattle’s only Top 5 item.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that Seattle is a cheap place to live.  It is certainly more expensive than most places.   In fact, the Cost of Living Index shows Seattle to be 16 percent more expensive than the average urban area in the United States.  And of the six major cost categories that are indexed — housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services — Seattle is above the national average in all but one (utilities).  Where Seattleites get hit hardest is in health care costs — ours are the 16th highest in the country.

So Seattle is an expensive city, but still, is it one of the most expensive?  A lot of Seattleites seem to have the perception that Seattle is just behind the top-tier cities like New York and San Francisco, but the data do not support it.  In fact, we only rank 34th overall on the Cost of Living Index for the third quarter of 2012.  Manhattan, the No. 1 city, has 113 percent higher costs than Seattle; San Francisco and Honolulu are over 50 percent more expensive.  We’re even behind some places that don’t sound quite so posh, like Juneau, Alaska and Newark-Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Let’s take apartment rents, as an example.  They have been on the rise here, and a lot of folks are grousing about how expensive it’s gotten.  They’re right, rents are high — about 61 percent above the national average, in fact.  The rent for a good-sized, two-bedroom apartment in Seattle averages a bit more than $1,400 now.  Yes, that’s a lot, but still outside the Top 20 cities in the country.  A comparable apartment in Honolulu or San Francisco would be nearly double that.  And — if you can believe this — a similar pad in Manhattan would rent for about $4,000.

Yikes.  I love New York, but I think I’ll stay put.



Here are the cities in Washington that are included in the Cost of Living Index, along with their scores.  A score of 100 equals the national average, so five Washington cities have above average costs, and four have below average costs (Bellevue is not among the cities included in the survey):



























Moses Lake





Source: Council for Economic and Community Interest, Cost of Living Index, third quarter 2012


Comments | More in Market Research | Topics: Cost of living, Seattle


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