The average cost of living in Morgantown was 3.7 percent higher than the national average in 2015 – up 0.5 percent from the previous year – and housing and health care surprisingly were not the culprits in the most recent survey.
New research from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University and the internationally recognized Council for Community and Economic Research point to a significant increase in miscellaneous goods and services, such as restaurant meals, entertainment, household services and clothing, which rose 10.5 percentage points in 2015 and were 13.5 percent above the national average.
Additionally, Morgantown has a higher cost of living index than several other comparable college towns selected by researchers.
Housing costs dropped in the Morgantown market by more than seven percent from the previous year, while the national average rose by more than three percent. However, researchers said the drop was most likely due to a small sample size. The housing index is based on house rental rates and prices of high-end single-family homes. The 2014 survey showed that housing prices in Morgantown were 13 percent above the national average.
“A concern for several years has been the high cost of housing in the Morgantown area,” said John Deskins, director of the BBER, which is housed within the WVU College of Business and Economics. “While we do not believe housing has fallen in price in an absolute sense, the data indicate that housing is becoming somewhat more affordable relative to the national average. This may indicate a positive trend that means that Morgantown employers will have an easier time attracting the talent they need.”
“The biggest cost increase in this year’s survey was in miscellaneous goods and services, which encompasses items such as repair services, entertainment and clothing,” said Eric Bowen, BBER economist. “The rise in this category may indicate rising labor costs driven by a tight labor market in Morgantown.”
Health care costs decreased relative to the national average in 2015 by 2.8 points, and were noted to be below the national average during three specific observations last year. The health care index is comprised of data derived from optometrist, dentist and general practitioner office visits, as well as prices of prescription and non-prescription medications.
“The cost of living in Morgantown was below the national average for the remaining categories considered in the survey: groceries, transportation and utilities, which were between 0.7 and 6.8 percent below the national average in 2015,” read the report. “Morgantown’s grocery and utility indexes decreased relative to the national average in 2015, while the transportation index was higher at just 0.7 percentage points below the nation.
When compared to six other similar college towns, Morgantown was found to have the highest cost of living. With a composite cost of living index of 103.7, Morgantown was more expensive to live in than Knoxville, Tenn. (University of Tennessee); Lexington, Kentucky (University of Kentucky); Columbus, Ohio (Ohio State University); Tampa, Florida (University of South Florida); Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University); and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh).
The index for these cities ranged from 86.4 in Knoxville to 98.6 in Pittsburgh. The survey data are used to calculate a cost of living index that measures a city’s relative cost of living in comparison to the national average. The survey included six categories, including groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, health care and miscellaneous purchases. These categories are then combined into a formula that creates a composite score for each city.
The full report is available from the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research for free download in PDF format at be.wvu.edu/bber.
Founded in 1961, the Council for Community and Economic Research is a membership organization that promotes excellence in community and economic research by working to improve data availability, enhance data quality, and foster learning about regional economic analytic methods. C2ER’s 500+ members span a broad range of specialty skills and collectively touch all aspects of community and economic development in the U.S. and Canada.
CONTACT: John Deskins; College of Business and Economics
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