2.18.2010

Unaffordable Home


The curiousness of my decision, as a young Northern Californian, to not only go to college on the East Coast but to then stay out there upon graduation, cannot be overstated. After all, my high school and neighborhood produced many a brainiac far brainier than I, and yet most went to California schools, since there are so many good ones, and those few who did venture further east soon returned to the West Coast, whether it was for the plentiful jobs or the temperate weather.

Even more unusual, I ended up not in a glamorous place like New York or Boston or DC, but Philadelphia. In the mind of the typical young Californian, circa the mid-1990’s, not much would seem to justify such a move: Philly’s rep in Cali was that there was no sports buzz, no night scene, and plenty of unsavory elements.

My response to the common question has evolved over time. First, it was: “Well, I like to do things differently.” Then, it was: “Well, I met a girl.” For a long time now, it’s been: “I can’t afford to move back!”

And how. I was recently pointed in the direction of a website called bestplaces.net, which allows you to compare locations from a cost-of-living standpoint. For kicks and giggles, I punched in Philadelphia and Cupertino (I actually lived in San Jose, but on the border of Cupertino; and because San Jose is a relatively big city, with lots of neighborhoods far poorer than where I grew up, Cupertino is actually a better proxy). Here’s what I found out: Cupertino is more expensive than Philadelphia.

No duh. No news flash there. But here are the numbers, which are still eye-popping to me:
• Housing – 788% more expensive
• Food – 12% more expensive
• Health – 50% more expensive
• Overall – 178% more expensive

Bestplaces.net tells me I would have to just about triple my salary to adjust to all of these increases in my cost of living if I moved home. So, several years after I started making the claim, I now have the data to back it up: if you’re wondering why I still live in Philly and haven’t moved back home, it’s because I can’t afford to.

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