It's clear that the cost of living varies across the country, especially in places like New York City versus Boise, Idaho. Sometimes it's hard to visualize that difference, so the Tax Foundation released a new map to show the differences by state.
Oddly enough, if you create a map in which the states where $100 goes shortest are blue and the states where $100 goes farthest are red, it almost looks like a fairly typical breakdown of states by political party. California and New York are blue with red states clustered in the south and plains regions.
For help explaining the map, take a look at this example from Alan Cole, a Tax Foundation economist. "Ohio is a low-price state," Cole says. "There, $100 will buy you stuff that would cost $111.98 in a state at the national average price level. You could think of this as meaning that Ohioans are, for the purposes of day-to-day living, 11 percent richer than their incomes suggest."
Cole also explains how important the gap between high- and low-price areas are. "Real purchasing power is 36 percent greater in Mississippi than it is in the District of Columbia. In other words, by this measure, if you have $50,000 in after-tax income in Mississippi, you would have to have after-tax earnings of $68,000 in the District of Columbia just to afford the same overall standard of living," Cole says.
Of course, sometimes there are big differences in the cost of living within a state. The cost of living in Manhattan is much higher than it would be in the farthest reaches of upstate New York.
Despite the vast differences, many public policies are created without considering this factor. For example, tax brackets, food stamp eligibility and the federal minimum wage are all set at one level nationwide, without much differentiation to account for cost of living differences.
"This has some unexpected consequences," Cole says. "People in high price-level states like New Jersey will often pay more in federal taxes without feeling particularly rich."
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.