Saturday, December 23, 2006

The high cost of low living

Pittsburgh's civic boosters like to talk up the region's low cost of living, but as this writer in the Post-Gazette points out, low cost of living is offset by low salaries. He relies largely on anecdotes to make his case, but I think it's an argument worth considering. What do we talk about when we discuss the region's cost of living.?Does it merely include housing and consumer goods, or do we also factor in taxes? Does it consider the hidden costs of living with aging and inadequate infrastructure? For example, I'm guessing that brakes and shocks wear out a lot sooner on western Pennsylvania roads than elsewhere.

Perhaps the cost of living is not so much of a draw for recent college graduates and young professionals, who don't mind living in a small apartment or sharing costs with roommates, and want more money for some of the extras that Matthew Dillon ticks off in his Post-Gazette essay, like eating out, vacations and a nice car. It might be that cost of living tips the scales in our favor with older professionals who have either been able to cash in on a hot real estate market, or have a salary or savings commensurate with a higher-cost region. I'm not sure that's what the boosters want to hear.

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Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

i think the problem with payscale in this town is that the job market has too many middle manager positions that are as far up the corporate ladder as most people can get.

in other words, there aren't that many good jobs here between entry level and middle manager and the very top positions in an organization.

we're kind of like a giant set for a real-life version of "the office" and there are far too many david brents around (i've only watched the british version. i don't know what steven carrell is called in the us take on the show). and nowhere for anyone with talent or ambition to go — except alexandria, VA.

now for a moment of joy. my local beer distributor has a stack of real rolling rock that is three cases wide and at least 20 feet high. i'm in heaven...for at least the next 6 months.

12:14 AM

Blogger Harold D. Miller said...

Low salaries are definitely a problem here, and it's not just anecdotal. I wrote a column about this in the Post-Gazette in September ( and there is more data on my website (

6:16 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

Hey, I screwed up on that Kinks song at the end of the Sopranos. It was a Kinks song performed by Camper Van Beethoven, with an amazingly Ray Davies sounding vocal.

7:04 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Thanks for weighing in Harold.

And Sean, I feel like that song has been used by someone else recently, like maybe in a commercial.

10:18 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Would it be safe to assume that the reason that teaching and some of the building trades have relatively high salaries due to strong unions? Interesting that our school districts pay so well relatively speaking even though we have a glut of teachers, at least at the elementary level. (And no, I'm not making an argument for paying teachers less money.)

I also seem to recall that this region has a relative dearth of skilled labor. Could that also be reflected in higher pay for some of those professions?

10:23 AM

Blogger Harold D. Miller said...

I think it would be safe to assume that. I think Pennsylvania still has more teacher strikes than anyplace else in the country.

I'm not sure what you mean by a "dearth of skilled labor." There are shortages in certain types of skills, but some of that is temporary, and some is not unique to Pittsburgh (machinists and nurses, for example, are in short supply everywhere).

7:39 PM


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