”Survey says” looks at various rankings and scorecards judging geographic locations while noting these grades are best seen as a mix of artful interpretation and data.

Buzz: Finding a cost of living “bargain” in California is becoming an even more elusive search, and only two of 26 metro areas in the state were not among the nation’s 100 priciest places to live.

Source: My trusty spreadsheet reviewed an annual cost-of-living index by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that tracks a broad sample of expenses for 382 metropolitan areas — including 26 in California. Comparative cost surges came from averages of the three most recent years — 2018 to 2020, a period of growth and the pandemic chill — vs. a decade earlier — 2008 to 2010, the before-during-after period around the Great Recession.


The bureau’s “price parity” indexes are another metric showing how living in California has gotten even more expensive, relative to other parts of the nation.

Consider that between 2008 and 2010, just nine of California’s 26 metros had a cost of living that ranked outside the costliest 100 U.S. communities, according to this federal math. Fresno was the 110th most-expensive spot of 382 metros, followed by Redding (111), Yuba City (113), Bakersfield (116), Hanford (120), Madera (128), Merced (154), Visalia (176), and El Centro (197).

In 2018-2020, that shortlist shrank to just Hanford (101) and El Centro (193).


Monterey County suffered the state’s largest cost of living jump in this 10-year period, by the yardstick.

The decade’s 5.5-percentage-point jump — also the third-largest in the nation — pushed Monterey County’s cost of living to a level 10.9% above the nation’s average. That makes it the eighth-priciest place to live.

California metros with the biggest cost hikes were a decidedly northern group …

Sacramento: This expense ratio rose 4.4 points, second-largest statewide and No. 13 nationally — to 6.8% above the 2018-20s average (No. 20 of all U.S. metros).

San Francisco: Up 3.9 points to 18.6% above average (No. 1).

Modesto: Up 3.7 points to 3.3% above average (No. 38).

Merced: Up 3.6 points to 0.1% below average (No. 72).

Ventura County: Up 3.6 points to 11.9% above average (No. 6).

Stockton: Up 3.6 points to 4.4% above average (No. 29).

San Luis Obispo: Up 3.5 points to 9.6% above average (No. 17).

Visalia: Up 3.2 points to 1.3% below average (No. 84).

Redding: Up 2.9 points to 0.8% above average (No. 62).

An interesting collection of eight California metros showed declines over the decade in this measurement of how living expenses compare across the nation. Note that most of these California markets remain among the priciest places to live in America …

Inland Empire: Costs fell 0.3 percentage points in 10 years to a level that’s 4% above the national average for 2018-20 — ranking 33rd highest.

Los Angeles-Orange County: Down 0.6 points to 10.7% above average (No. 11).

El Centro: Down 1.1 points to 6% below average (No. 193).

Napa: Down  2 points to 11.9% above average (No. 6).

San Jose: Down 2.1 points to 12.5% above average (No. 4).

Santa Rosa: Down 2.6 points to 10.6% above average (No. 13).

Vallejo: Down 2.9 points to 9% above average (No. 18).

Santa Cruz: That state’s biggest 10-year drop — off 3.7 points to 10% above average (No. 14).

Bottom line

California’s cost-of-living challenges have expanded to “affordable” inland towns away from the giant population hubs of Southern California and the Bay Area well-known for pricey lifestyles.

That means even California’s cheapest communities are fairly expensive on a national scale — another factor why California does so poorly attracting new residents.


Here’s how other California metro areas tracked, ranked by expense-ratio increases over 10 years …

Fresno: Costs rose 2.9 percentage points in 10 years to 0.8% above the U.S. average in 2018-20 (ranking No. 61 among all metros).

Santa Barbara:  Up 2.9 points to 10.9% above average (No. 9).

Chico: Up 2.6 points to 2.4% above average (No. 47).

Yuba City: Up 2.4 points to 0.1% above average (No. 70).

Bakersfield: Up 2.3 points to 0.1% below average (No. 71).

Madera: Up 0.7 points to 2.1% below average (No. 98).

San Diego: Up 0.4 points to 12.1% above average (No. 5).

Hanford: Up 0.3 points to 2.2% below average (No. 101).

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at jlansner@scng.com