A WA metro topped nation’s list for rising costs — and it wasn’t Seattle

The cost of living has skyrocketed in Seattle over recent years, but it could be worse. At least you don’t live in Wenatchee.

You read that right.

According to an analysis of all U.S. metro areas by Bloomberg, Wenatchee has risen fastest in the rankings of America’s costliest places to live since 2010.

Wenatchee is the largest city in Chelan County, which is east of King County, on the other side of the Cascades. The Wenatchee metro area includes the Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth, a popular tourist destination.

Bloomberg’s analysis is based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Each year, the agency produces a cost-of-living index that compares costs in the nation’s metro areas. This index is called the Regional Price Parity.

The RPP sets the national average for cost of goods and services at 100. So if, for example, a metro has an RPP of 105, that means goods and services for the average consumer in that metro are 5% higher than the U.S. average.

In 2010, the Wenatchee metro area was less expensive than the national average. It had an RPP of 95, meaning costs were 5% lower than the national average. That put the Central Washington area as the 194th-costliest metro in the nation.

Skip ahead to 2021, which is when the latest BEA data is from, and Wenatchee had an RPP of 103.1, meaning the area was around 3% more expensive than the national average. Wenatchee ranked as the 36th-costliest U.S. metro, and climbed 158 spots in the rankings since 2010. It was the biggest jump in ranking of any metro area, beating out The Villages, Florida, which climbed 155 places.

But you could also make the case that Seattle actually outpaced Wenatchee in cost-of-living increases if you look at the change in the RPP index number itself, instead of using the BEA data to look at the change in rankings, as Bloomberg did.

From 2010 to 2021, Seattle’s RPP rose from 105.6 to 114.6, a nine-point increase. That wasn’t just a bigger increase than Wenatchee — it was the single largest jump in the RPP of any metro area in the U.S.

But even by that measure, Wenatchee still saw sharply escalating costs. With an 8.1-point increase in its RPP from 2010 to 2021, Wenatchee ranked No. 2 among the nation’s 385 metros, just behind Seattle.

If you’re a Wenatchee-area resident, feel free to blame Seattle for what’s happened.

“Housing prices were the primary driver [for rising costs] in Wenatchee,” said Paul Turek, state economist with the Employment Security Department. “That part of the state has become another landing spot for what’s really taking place in Seattle.”

As home prices in the Seattle area escalated, development grew in the surrounding areas, Turek said. And as the cost of housing increased throughout the region, homebuyers have been looking beyond Snohomish and Pierce counties to areas like Bremerton. And since the start of the pandemic, an increasing number of Seattleites have eyed the Wenatchee area, which is more than two hours from Seattle.

“The fact that now you may be able to telework gives you the option … to relocate over the mountains,” Turek said. “And with the pandemic, there has been more movement out of cities and into suburbs.”

And for some wealthier Seattle-area residents, the Wenatchee area — Leavenworth, in particular — has become a fashionable place to buy a vacation home, which has driven up prices. The median home-listing price in Leavenworth is around $749,000, not that much lower than Seattle’s $814,000, according to realtor.com.

Even with the significant increase in cost of living in the Wenatchee metro, the area only ranked sixth among metros wholly or partly in Washington. Seattle was No. 1, as you’d expect, and also had a pretty impressive climb up the cost-of-living rankings.

In 2010, Seattle ranked 26th among U.S. metros. Last year, Seattle ranked fifth, behind only San Francisco, San Diego, Honolulu and New York, in that order. Seattle’s RPP was 114.6 in 2021, meaning costs were 14.6% higher than the U.S. average.

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