Where’s the cheapest spot to live in California – and it’s not cheap – The Mercury News

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“How expensive?” tracks measurements of California’s totally unaffordable cost of life.

The pain: No California metro area had a below-average cost-of-living in 2022. There were 12 such areas in 2016.

The source: My trusty spreadsheet reviewed the annual “price parity” data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis that compares what it costs to live in 384 US metropolitan areas, including 26 from California.

The pinch

California “bargains” are rare, historically speaking. The state had four metros with below average costs in 2021, six in 2020 but just one in 2018.

So what happen between 2016 – the state’s most recent affordability peak – and 2022?

Well, California had the top nine metros for cost-of-living increases, by this math. And 13 from teh Golden State were in the top 18.

Pressure points

So where is California living the cheapest? And how do those costs compare to the “heyday” of 2016?

Think inland and farming regions.

No. 1 is El Centro, at the Mexico border. It costs 0.1% above the US average – that’s the No. 78 highest of the nation’s 384 metros. That expense ratio is up 4.4 percentage points vs. 2016, the 40th largest increase nationally).

The next two are Central Valley agriculture hubs, both costing 2.4% above the US norm – 66th highest. Hanford costs are up 5.3 points (No. 31) since 2016. And Visalia is up 7.8 points (No. 8).

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And where are the priciest places in the Golden State to live? It’s zero surprise that California was home to 12 of the 15 most expensive US metros in 2022.

San Francisco: 17.9% above the US norm – No. 1 – up 1.7 percentage points vs. 2016 (No. 73 increase nationally).

San Jose: 15.3% above – No. 2 – off 2.3 points (No. 224).

Santa Cruz: 14.7% above – No. 3 – off 0.3 points (No. 142).

San Diego: 14.5% above – No. 4 – up 0.9 points (No. 91).

Ventura County: 14.4% above – No. 5 – up 3.3 points (No. 49).

Santa Barbara: 13.9% above – No. 6 – up 7.4 points (No. 14).

Los Angeles-Orange County: 13.1% above – No. 8 – up 1.9 points (No. 69).

  • INFLATION TRENDS: What’s up? What’s cheaper? What’s next?CLICK HERE!

Salinas: 13.1% above – No. 9 – up 8.3 points (No. 5).

Napa: 12.9% above – No. 11 – off 4.7 points (No. 341).

San Luis Obispo: 12.6% above – No. 13 – up 7.7 points (No. 12).

Vallejo: 12.6% above – No. 14 – up 0.4 points (No. 143).

Santa Rosa: 12.5% above – No. 15 – off 2.4 points (No. 231).

Trouble spots

It’s actually the rest of the state that tells the tale.

This is where most of the big cost hikes occurred over six years. It seems that the lofty expenses of California’s big-city coastal life morphed inland.

Yuba City: 2.7% above the US norm – No. 62 nationally – and up 5.1 percentage points from 2016 (No. 32 increase nationally).

Merced: 3% above – No. 59 – up 7.7 points (No. 9).

Madera: 3.1% above – No. 57 – up 10.3 points (No. 1).

Redding: 3.8% above – No. 52 – up 7.4 points (No. 15).

Chico: 4.3% above – No. 49 – up 7.2 points (No. 18).

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Bakersfield: 4.5% above – No. 47 – up 8 points (No. 7).

Fresno: 5.2% above – No. 40 – up 8.6 points (No. 4).

Modesto: 6% above – No. 34 – up 8.2 points (No. 6).

Inland Empire: 6.4% above – No. 32 – up 0.9 points (No. 93).

Stockton: 8.5% above – No. 25 – up 8.7 points (No. 3).

Sacramento: 9.9% above – No. 20 – up 8.8 points (No. 2).

The cure

So, you want to move to the cheapest spots in America?

Well, life outside any metropolitan area had costs 11% below average in 2022.

Or if you desire the most affordable metros, by this math, consider Pine Bluff, Arkansas (19% below average expenses), then four Alabama metros – Gadsden (18% below), Anniston-Oxford and Florence-Muscle Shoals (16% below), and Dothan (15% below).

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at [email protected]



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