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The High Cost of Living - Top 10 Most Expensive Places to Live In America and 10 That are Reasonable

Updated on March 7, 2012

HIgh Cost of Living

After the Recession of 2008 - 2010 and America's gradual recovery during the years 2010, 2011, and early 2012, Kiplinger Magazine analysts looked for the most expensive cities in the nation in which to live. These would be cities that, without yearly salaries proportionately high, would be difficult for job-seeking, working, and living.

Kiplinger analysts chose the expensive cities by examining the cost of living index in each city for 2011 with the national index, which is "100", as in percentages. Another place to find cost of living comparisons is Sperling's Best Places on the Internet, where you can choose a town or city and see a comparison of that place's cost of living index for the current year with that of the nation at any time. The very smallest towns in America may or may not be included.

What are the Top 10 Most Expensive Places to Live in the country for 2011 - 2012? Unfortunately, some of them are the same metro areas that offer Americans the largest numbers of jobs, but not the highest paying positions. They can be too costly for living and some people move away to other cities and states.

A full 50% (5) of these high-cost cities are located in California, while Number One is in New York.

Examine the information below about the most and least expensive places to live in our country, and check out the links for another level of useful data.


Number One: New York City

Cost of living here is over twice that of the nation at 218 and housing costs are generally quadruple the national average. Employers in New York City offer over 208,000 job listings in January 2012. Also see NYC Recovery Zone. Additionally, many of the Richest Cities In America are nearby.

NYC always shows up in job search results on major search engines as the number one city for the most high demand jobs, because it is a large city with a large population..

In January 2012, these top included Project Managers,Business Analysts,Occupational Therapists, Physician Assistants, Physical Therapists, Administrative Assistants, Java Developers, and Physicians that include Psychiatrists, and Pharmacists. The healthcare related occupations listed here are, in fact, some of the most well paid jobs, but they require education, training, and licensing.

New York's Little Italy

Little Italy - Mulberry Street - on the lower East Side of NYC in 1900.
Little Italy - Mulberry Street - on the lower East Side of NYC in 1900. | Source
Honolulu, HI, USA

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San Francisco:
San Francisco, CA, USA

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Santa Ana:
Santa Ana, CA, USA

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SNAPSHOT January 2012

2.Honolulu HI - Cost of living Index 163 and about 7,800 job postings. Most-advertised jobs include Baristas, Shift Supervisor, Dentists, Pharmacists, Clinical Psychologists, Nurses (RNs),Physicians,and Clinical Social Workers and these healthcare jobs are well paid.

3.San Francisco - Cost of Living Index a little over 162. High demand jobs among over 101,000 listings include Software Engineers, Baristas, Shift Supervisors, Physical Therapists, Senior Software Engineers, Product Managers, Occupational Therapists, and Project Managers. Bold listings are the highest paid overall in this city, Healthcare and IT being at the top of the scale.

4. Orange County CA, specifically Santa Ana - Cost of Living Index 146.5. Hot job among over 84,400 include Baristas, Shift Supervisors, Dentists, Dental Assistants, Front Desk Staff, Salespeople, Physical Therapists, Asst. Store Managers, and Project Managers. The occupations in BOLD type are higher paid, with many at medium to low wages.

East Coast Expensive

Manhattan NYC - Number One Most Expensive:
Manhattan, New York, NY, USA

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Stamford CT - Number Four Most Expensive, near NYC:
Stamford, CT, USA

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Washington DC - Number Seven Most Expensive:
Washington, DC, USA

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Fairbanks, AK, USA

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Anchorage, AK, USA

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5. Stamford CT - The Stamford-Bridgeport area is an improving and growing area with a Cost of Living Index of about 146. Homes may cost twice the US average here, but Bridgeport home prices have fallen as the city has improved infrastructure, businesses, and services. Of 151,000 jobs listings, these are in highest demand: Project Managers, Administrative and Executive Assistants, Physician Assistants, Java Developers, Psychiatrists, Pharmacists, Physicians, Business Analysts, RN Nurses (some nurses very highly paid).

6. Fairbanks AK - Cost of Living Index about 140. Utilities are especially expensive.Only 1,200 jobs are available and most are not high paying: Physical Therapists, Event Specialists, Assistant Store Managers, Graduate Externs, Phlebotomists, Speech Language Pathologists, CNAs.

7. Washington DC - Cost of Living Index around 138. This is one expensive place in which jobs pay high wages as well. All of the following top jobs there in January 2012 are higher paying among the 166,000 advertised: Physical and Occupational Therapists, Software Engineers, Systems Engineers, Project Managers, Java Developers, Program Managers, and Network Engineers.

High Costs In California

San Francisco:
San Francisco, CA, USA

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Santa Ana:
Santa Ana, CA, USA

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Oakland, CA, USA

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Los Angeles:
Los Angeles, CA, USA

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San Diego:
San Diego, CA, USA

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More In California

8. Oakland CA - Cost of Living Index 137. Over 180,000 jobs are on offer in January 2012, those in top demand being Software Engineers, Baristas, Shift Supervisors, Project Managers, Product Managers, Physical and Occupational Therapists and Assistants.

9. Los Angeles CA - Cost of Living Index here is about 136. Over 115,000 jobs. In highest demand are: Baristas, Shift Supervisors, Dental Assistants, Dentists, Physical Therapists, Front Desk Staff, and Project Managers.

10. San Deigo CA - Last in this Top 10 List, the city has a Cost of Living Index of 132.3. About 34,000 job listings. Top jobs include: Baristas, Shift Supervisors, Software Engineers, Physical and Occupational Therapists, Salespeople, Web Developers, and Dental Assistants.

Top 10 Lowest Cost of Living Cities in USA

The ten cities with the lowest cost of living in America (reference: Kiplinger ) are cheaper places to live than the top 10, but even the cheapest city's Cost of Living Index is at 85. This means approximately 85% of the national average, although that is an oversimplification. Access links below for full reviews and job listings.

Top 10 Low Cost American Cities:

  1. Fort Smith, Arkansas - Cheapest Place in the USA to live, with good jobs as well.
  2. Pueblo, Colorado - Find high paying jobs here and see what a slopper is.
  3. Harlingen, Texas - Lower Cost of Living and Unemployment Rate than the national average.
  4. McAllen, Texas -- Part of Borderplex, a metro area reaching into Mexico.
  5. Johnson City, Tennessee - Home of the National Storytelling Festival.
  6. Conway, Arkansas - A fast-growing and busy college town with two colleges, a university, and a premier medical center complex.
  7. Springfield, Illinois - Land of Abraham Lincoln and entertaining Trolley Tours.
  8. Covington, Kentucky - Much cheaper than Cincinnati OH, just across the Ohio River, and offering well paying jobs.
  9. Louisville, Kentucky
  10. Omaha, Nebraska


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Not many surprises on this list!! I was a little bit surprised on Stamford. I know it's right outside NYC and all, but I always thought it was one of the less desirable commuter areas, I would have thought Long ISland or some of the commuter cities in New Jersey would be more expensie.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      That's true - cost of living is very high in NYC.

    • gregoriom profile image

      Deninson Mota 

      9 years ago from East Elmhurst, NY

      I'm glad to see New York as the #1 place because it really deserves to be the #1. Everything here seems to go up, but the pay in our jobs. That really sucks.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Must be pretty expensive and I hope wages are higher in proportion.

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      9 years ago from Oakland, CA

      I live in Oakland (#8) and work in San Francisco (#3). I've always said that we pay for the privilege to live in the Bay Area.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      That sounds like a big shock to me as well.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I was surprised to see Fairbanks on this list being born there and only gone a little over a year now we had a comfortable life there. Living in small town Indiana now we are considered below poverty level and cost of living is more expensive then in Fairbanks. Truly a shock to see and harder to believe.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Exactly true. :)

    • whoisbid profile image


      9 years ago

      Yeh NY is so expensive these days

    • breakfastpop profile image


      9 years ago

      Interesting piece. NYC doesn't surprise me, But some of the others did.

    • ElizaDoole profile image

      Lisa McKnight 

      9 years ago from London

      Thanks for this hub, the information is very interesting. I agree with Healthy Pursuits: the most expensive place is usually the most desired.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      About 20 years ago, a friend moved to near Fairbanks and the adjustment was difficult. No roads to her place back then - only sleds.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile image

      Karla Iverson 

      9 years ago from Oregon

      Thanks for the great hub. I was surprised by some of the least expensive places to live. As others have said, the most expensive places to live are usually where everyone wants to be. If I didn't have friends who've lived in Alaska, I would also have been surprised about the expenses there.

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 

      9 years ago

      Yep, us "fruits and nuts" in and from California get our reputation in part from the high prices we pay to live in paradise! A strong earthquake shaker like the one in Japan will definitely change the landscape ~ both literally and figuratively!! Blessings always, Earth Angel!!

    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Very interesting and informative hub. I was at first surprised by Fairbanks but then thought about the conditions there and it makes total sense to me.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      New York and Honolulu does not surprise me as most expensive as well as the south to be less costly. Although it did surprise me not to see Seattle in the expensive arena.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Yes, Physical Therapists and Assistants are still needed in large numbers in most states. Thanks, Bob!

    • healthwriterbob profile image


      9 years ago from United States

      Hi Patty Inglish,

      This hub has a lot of useful information. Anyone wanting to get into a field that offers many job opportunities in different locations should consider physical therapy.

      Voted up and useful. Take care.


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      BlissfulWriter - I think one reason for the high cost in Fairbanks is the transportation costs to bring in food and other items.

      angela p - and Richmond is an attractive city.

      leahlefler - Housing certainly is sky high in Cal.

      suejanet - Thanks!

    • suejanet profile image


      9 years ago

      I had guessed it would be New York and California.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      9 years ago from Western New York

      We used to live in Oxnard, California (near Ventura) and moved when our jobs were outsourced. The cost of living was astronomical, with rent for a 1 bedroom apartment matching our current mortgage payment (for a 3,000 square foot house on an acre)! We now live in Western NY, which has low house prices and high taxes - not the cheapest area to live, but certainly better than the unaffordable situation in California!

    • angela p profile image

      angela p 

      9 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

      Very interesting information. We live just outside of DC and have decided to move back to Richmond Virginia (60 miles south) in June. We lived in Richmond before moving here two years ago. The cost of living is much cheaper.. housing etc. Very useful info. Thanks.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image


      9 years ago

      Places with a high cost of living tend to be places where many people want to live (such as in Hawaii, New York, San Francisco). It is a bit surprising that Fairbanks right in the middle of Alaska made it on the list of high cost of living.


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