Even before inflation became front-page news, Seattle already had among the highest costs of living in the U.S. But now, with inflation at a near 40-year high, some of the price increases in Seattle are eye-popping. And while housing and gas prices might be the most obvious examples, there are consumer goods that have increased even more.
To get a complete picture, I turned to the just released Cost of Living Index for the city of Seattle, which covers the first quarter of 2022. Typically, the Cost of Living Index, or COLI, is used to compare U.S. cities with one another. But I used it to compare Seattle with itself to see how much prices have changed in one year.
So, how much more are we paying for food, gas and other goods and services than we were one year ago?
Of the 59 items surveyed by COLI researchers in Seattle, 44 were more expensive than they were one year before. And 21 of them increased more than 10%.
U.S. consumers have been struggling with high inflation rates for months. In April, prices were up 8.3% from one year earlier, just below the 8.5% year-over-year surge in March, which was the highest since 1981.
The jump in gasoline prices hits drivers hard every time they need to fill the tank, and it grabs the most media attention. In Seattle, the one-year increase was more than $1 per gallon, from about $3.21 in the beginning of 2021 to $4.26 in the first quarter of 2022.
That’s a 33% jump, but it only ranked as the third-highest price increase among the 59 survey items. Two supermarket items topped the list.
Margarine, of all things, increased the most, up 47% (or 49 cents) from one year ago. A 5-pound bag of potatoes had the second-largest price increase, up 39% (or $1.25).
Sharp price increases were felt across the board, covering a wide range of goods and services. The typical men’s haircut costs around $37 in Seattle, up 16%. An annual veterinary checkup for a pet dog went up 30%, costing almost $82. The price per pound of rib-eye steak jumped 13% to more than $19. These are just a few examples of the 21 items with double-digit increases.
But there were 15 items in Seattle that went down in price over the past year, although most of the decreases were tiny. The biggest price drop was for an auto repair service — the cost to have a vehicle’s tires balanced is 16% lower than last year, at around $60.
The Cost of Living Index is published by the Arlington, Virginia-based Council for Community and Economic Research, a nonprofit research and policy organization. COLI researchers collect their data during the same three-day period each quarter. For the first quarter of 2022, surveys were conducted in 262 cities across the U.S.
For a city the size of Seattle, COLI researchers collect as many as 10 sample prices for each item, when possible. Taxes are not included in the price.
Seattle ranked as having the ninth-highest overall cost of living in the new COLI release. Compared with the average cost of living for all 262 cities surveyed, it cost about 51% more to live in Seattle. The most expensive place in the nation was Manhattan, at 141% above average, followed by Honolulu and San Francisco.
When compared with the other cities surveyed, the most expensive thing in Seattle was — no surprise — housing. The estimated price for a roughly 2,400-square-foot new construction home ($892,500) was 134% higher than the 262-city median. The estimated rent for a roughly 950-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment ($2,789 per month) was also 134% higher than the median. Both home prices and rents in Seattle are up close to 8% from one year ago.
For almost all of the 59 items surveyed, prices in Seattle were higher than the 262-city median. There were two exceptions. A half gallon of whole milk was on par with the median, at $2.22. And the mortgage interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate home loan was less than 0.1% below the median, at 3.6%.
Seattle is one of nine places in Washington surveyed in the first-quarter 2022 COLI, and it was the most expensive. But most other places in Washington, particularly on the western side of the state, also had overall higher costs of living than the index average.
Kitsap County and Mount Vernon/Skagit County were both 21% higher than average, followed by Bellingham (+19%), Olympia (+13%) and Spokane (+2%).
The Tri-Cities area (Kennewick-Richland-Pasco) and Wenatchee were both less than 1% above average.
And the cheapest place to live among the nine surveyed in Washington?
With a cost of living around 2% below the national average, Yakima.