The cost of living nationwide has been skyrocketing lately, but which American cities are the most expensive to live in? We turned to the Council for Community and Economic Research, which releases quarterly cost-of-living indexes among 263 urban areas. (The index compares against the national average, which is represented by 100.) Factors taken into account included a city’s median income and local costs for food, taxes, housing, and healthcare. It’s no surprise that all of these cities are pretty desirable places in which to live, full of job opportunities, history, nature, nightlife, and arts and culture — but all those attributes don’t come cheap. Here are the 10 most expensive places to live in the U.S. to live in, as of late 2021.
Los Angeles/Long Beach, California
- Cost of living index: 148.0
- Median household income: $67,418 (nationwide average: $57,652)
- Average home price: $904,318 (nationwide average: $311,927)
- Average monthly rent: $2,776 (nationwide average: $985)
The second-largest city in the U.S. is sought-after for its sunny climate, diversity, world-class restaurants, and job opportunities in the film and TV industry, in particular. Yet its high cost of living doesn’t seem to deter folks from moving there. The 12.3% California personal income tax, along with the 9.5% sales tax in the city of Los Angeles — one of the highest in the nation — don’t help matters. Plus, the average annual income in L.A. is only 17% higher than the national average, but the cost of housing is nearly three times than the national average.
- Cost of living index: 148.6
- Median household income: $79,018
- Average home price: $799,000
- Average monthly rent: $3,548
Recently called the world’s best city to find a job, Boston offers employment prospects in a variety of industries, ranging from education to tech. Beantown also offers great public transit options and a strong foodie scene. (Lobster, anyone?) But since Boston is also a mecca for college students, with more than 30 universities and colleges within city limits, it’s home to a much younger populace as a result. This leads to a lower income in Boston than you’ll find in high-cost cities like Honolulu or New York City, and, as a result, a bigger gulf between salaries and cost of living.
- Cost of living index: 149.4
- Median household income: $102,486
- Average home price: $828,335
- Average monthly rent: $2,642
The Puget Sound region has seen a colossal growth spurt in the last two decades, thanks in part to tech giants Amazon and Microsoft (among many others) — with no sign of slowing. And they don’t call it the Emerald City for nothing. Sandwiched between the Cascade Mountains and the Salish Sea, Seattle boasts spectacular natural scenery with plenty of nearby options for outdoor activities. People also like Seattle for its mild (if a bit damp) weather, counterculture aesthetics, and a thriving music and arts scene. But the city — and particularly the housing supply — hasn’t been able to quite keep up with the booming population, and home prices stand at more than 2.5 times the national average.
Orange County, California
- Cost of living index: 151.9
- Median household income: $81,851
- Average home price: $970,589
- Average monthly rent: $2,218
It’s all about the beach life in sunny Orange County, located about 30 miles south of L.A. With 42 miles of coastline, residents have their choice of sandy beaches, surfing areas, tide pools, boat-filled harbors, and even sea caves. Theme parks do big business in the O.C., too — the area is home to Disneyland California Adventure, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Knott’s Soak City. But that easy ocean access comes with a price tag: With home costs more than three times the national average and a median household income that’s only 42% higher than the norm, some of Orange County’s residents may have a hard time keeping up.
- Cost of living index: 152.8
- Median household income: $82,018
- Average home price: $843,314
- Average monthly rent: $2,572
One of the fastest gentrifying parts of the Bay Area, Oakland has seen housing prices nearly double in the last decade, and the population demographics have also changed considerably. Located east of San Francisco on beautiful Lake Merritt, Oaktown is home to big corporations like Southwest Airlines and Kaiser Permanente, and unemployment is low. For many, the city’s focus on building communities and boosting small businesses makes it an attractive place to live. But Oakland has an income level that’s quite a bit lower than the rest of the Bay, and there’s still a huge chasm between income and the amount needed to either rent or own a home comfortably here.
- Cost of living index: 154.4
- Median household income: $77,649
- Average home price: $1,069,329
- Average monthly rent: $3,002
D.C. has one of the highest median incomes in the nation, and it’s no mystery why. Rife with jobs in the government, business, tech, education, tourism, and healthcare industries, the area attracts opportunity seekers from around the country. Add in tons of parks, fine dining, museums, and nightlife, and you can see why people are willing to pay top dollar to live in the District. In fact, the city’s population has grown by over 100,000 in the last decade alone. However, D.C. also has quite a high cost of living, and the housing market has had a hard time catching up — both home prices and rents are around 3.5 times the national average.
Brooklyn, New York
- Cost of living index: 172.6
- Median household income: $66,937
- Average home price: $1,258,150
- Average monthly rent: $3,320
With more parks, gardens, and open spaces, Brooklyn is less cramped than Manhattan, and it boasts a unique arts and food scene all its own. Once in the shadow of Manhattan, Brooklyn in the early aughts saw many of its old buildings redeveloped into luxury apartments, and New York’s largest borough is still doing its best to catch up to Manhattan — at least in terms of cost of living. Brooklyn’s average home costs nearly four times the national average, and multi-million dollar renovated brownstones are commonplace. Still, residents make only about $10,000 more than the national average, which contributes to Brooklyn’s high cost of living index.
- Cost of living index: 185.6
- Median household income: $87,470
- Average home price: $1,388,889
- Average monthly rent: $2,941
With a median income of over $80,000, people living in Hawaii’s capital handily out-earn the national average, but paradise doesn’t come cheap — the cost of living is considerably higher, too. In addition to the premium price tag they’ll find on housing on the dreamy island of Oahu, residents also have to pay extra to have goods shipped out there, which also inflates grocery prices. Electricity costs 94% more than the national average. Home prices are nearly 4.5 times higher than the norm on the mainland, and rent is also costly.
San Francisco, California
- Cost of living index: 186.4
- Median household income: $123,859
- Average home price: $1,394,651
- Average monthly rent: $4,323
The jewel of the Bay, San Francisco has a median income well above six figures, which puts its cost of living into perspective. Since the area is a tech hub, workers earn well over twice the national median household income, but the cost of just about everything is astronomical, too — not just housing but also food, drinks, entertainment, healthcare, and taxes. But with world-class restaurants on almost every corner and breathtaking views in no short supply, many people are will to shell out the money required to live here. Limited by its peninsular geography, San Francisco’s housing market is one of the most competitive in the nation, with the average home price just below $1.4 million.
Manhattan, New York
- Cost of living index: 239.3
- Median household income: $93,651
- Average home price: $2,404,750
- Average monthly rent: $5,133
People who live in the Big Apple enjoy perks that many cities don’t offer — like robust job opportunities in the fashion, theater, film, TV, and finance industries (to name a few); access to one of the world’s best mass transit systems; and a reputation as the “city that never sleeps” (which means you can get just about anything delivered 24/7). But the average income in Manhattan is fairly modest compared to the other cities on this list, which drives up its cost of living index. And similar to San Francisco, the island is limited by its geography and available housing. Manhattanites spend a little over five times more on their housing than the average American, and that applies to both home prices and rentals.