County Cost of Living Index and Median Household Income: How Cost of Living Differences Affect Real Earnings

The decision to move to a new city for a bigger salary may seem like a no-brainer, but how far will that extra money go? It is undeniable that larger metro areas like New York and Los Angeles offer better opportunities for higher paying jobs, but jobseekers should not only consider the size of their paycheck when figuring out where they should call home.

The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) creates a County Cost of Living (CCOL) adjustment which standardizes the Median Household Income (MHI) data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. Covering 3,111 counties, the data unveils what actual income may look like for a relocating worker.

The median income for Kansas City’s Wyandotte County, KS is $52,223. Meanwhile, New York County, NY (Manhattan) looks much more promising with an MHI at $87,745. After accounting for cost of living, the story shifts dramatically. Residents of the bustling midwestern hub earn an equivalent of $63,005, while New Yorkers lose over $50,000 in value, earning only $30,769 once adjusted for cost of living.

With a COLI adjusted MHI, Wyandotte County surges past New York County moving 1,077 places to a new rank of 798. New York County once ranked near the top with the 127th highest median income, plummets to 3,105, close to the bottom of the rankings

Generally, counties on the West Coast and in the Northeast decrease in rank after adjusting for CCOL, whereas counties in the South and Midwest increase in rank. For a more in-depth comparison of MHI before and after Cost of Living adjustments, check out the interactive heatmap here.


Based on C2ER’s research, 27.12% or 844 of the 3111 counties measured experienced at least a 10% change in MHI after adjusting for CCOL. Disparities in nominal and real income have implications for the purchasing power of each dollar earned. The cities with the highest and lowest adjusted Median Household Incomes are shown in the table below:

Individuals can use this information to make job-related decisions, shape public policy, and assist with business site location. For more information or to purchase the county-level index please visit the COLI products page.