People relocating for business, moving to another city, or simply planning a vacation can benefit from knowing details about the most expensive cities in the United States. Understanding how much it costs to live in a city, and why, can make or break a decision to move. Not surprisingly, our research has found that California cities dominate the list of America’s priciest cities. All figures are updated as of July 2022, unless otherwise specified.
- Cities offer a variety of employment opportunities along with loads of culture, sports, dining, and entertainment.
- The desire to live in cities can make them quite expensive.
- New York City's Manhattan borough is the most costly place to live, followed by Honolulu and San Francisco.
- Oakland, Calif., rounds out the top 10 list of most expensive cities in the U.S.
- There are a number of factors that contribute to the high cost of living in major cities, including housing and taxes.
1. Manhattan (New York City)
New York City's Manhattan borough leads the pack as the most expensive city in the United States. Out of the 8.5 million people who call New York City home, about 1.7 million live in Manhattan. The cost of living index in Manhattan is a whopping 237.8% higher than the national average.
Everything costs more in New York City, from groceries to public transportation to housing. The median cost of homes in the five boroughs of New York is about $776,946, compared with a national median of $355,852.
As of July 2022, the city’s unemployment was 6.6%, a slight increase from the previous month and a drop from July 2021's unemployment rate of 10.1%. That compares with a national unemployment rate of 3.5%. Perhaps further proof that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
As of July 2022, the most expensive cities to live in in the world are Hong Kong, New York, Geneva, London, and Tokyo.
Honolulu is the second highest place to live in the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated a population of just over one million in the island city.
Residents here pay a lot of money for just about everything. Groceries run about 153% higher than the national average, while utilities cost 102.2% more. Yet paychecks are not that much higher to compensate. The median household income in Honolulu is $87,722. This is better than the national median of $64,994 but falls well short of a median household income of $119,136 for San Francisco.
As of July 2022, Honolulu's unemployment rate was 3.8%.
3. San Francisco
People make the decision to leave San Francisco every day. As of July 2022, the city's population was just over 815,000. It's no surprise, as the city’s staggeringly high cost of living and out-of-reach housing prices have been known to break the bank. Median home prices are above $1.6 million inside the city, whose major industries include tourism, IT, and financial services.
A family of four with both adults working would need $128,878 in household income after taxes just to make ends meet. On the other hand, unemployment is at 2.6% as of June 2022, which dropped from the same period in the previous year. In June 2021, the area's unemployment rate was 6.4%.
4. Brooklyn (New York City)
Brooklyn is the second borough of New York City to land on the list of most expensive cities in the U.S. The area is known for some key attractions, including Coney Island and Prospect Park, not to mention the hipster scene.
The population in Brooklyn is higher than the more expensive Manhattan, with approximately 2.6 million residents. Median home values are the same as Manhattan, which Zillow reported as $776,946. The average rent in the borough can exceed $3,100 or a total of $37,200 for the entire year.
5. Washington, D.C.
Being the seat of the world’s most powerful nation accounts for Washington, D.C.’s high cost of living. Government and private-sector jobs abound in the city, thanks to numerous federal agencies, think tanks, lobbying firms, and a robust tourism sector.
More than 670,000 people call the area home. Median home values stand at approximately $708,000, and the median household income is about $90,842. A family of four with both adults working needs $96,163 in income after taxes to make ends meet in Washington, D.C.
Housing and taxes are two of the major contributors to the high cost of living in most of the expensive cities in the United States.
6. Orange County, CA
Considering Orange County? If you plan to call this area home, you'll join about 3.2 million other people. Keep in mind that you'll be in a place that has a big concentration of Fortune 500 companies and celebrities. It's also home to some of the country's best waters if you love to surf.
If you're looking for respite from the high price of areas like San Francisco, think again. Home values here top $1 million. That's quite a pretty penny, considering the median household income hovers is $94,441. The concentration of major employers in the city accounts for a lower-than-average unemployment rate, which is 2.8% as of July 2022.
7. Los Angeles
Los Angeles brings to mind wealthy, glamorous movie stars, but the movie and television industry actually plays a small role in the city’s booming economy. The city's shipping industry also plays a role, as the Port of Los Angeles is one of the busiest ports in the world. A bustling manufacturing sector and a noteworthy start-up scene contribute to the city’s high cost of living. Certain ZIP codes, such as the much-ballyhooed 90210, drive up housing costs.
There were about 3.9 million people living in the city as of July 2022. The median home value in Los Angeles is $991,551. The median household income is around $65,290. A family of four with two working adults would need an after-tax income of $97,687 to make ends meet in Los Angeles. About 17% of the city's residents live below the poverty line, compared with 11.4% nationally.
Roughly 655,000 people live in Boston. Groceries and health care cost a lot of money in Massachusetts, exceeding the average national cost by 16% for health care and nearly 12% for food. Boston enjoys a robust higher education environment, a booming tech scene that rivals Silicon Valley, and historic sites dating back to the 13 original colonies, which makes it one of the nation’s leading tourist destinations.
All of these add up to an unemployment rate of 3.2% in Boston and the surrounding areas as of June 2022, but city residents fork out big money to live in Boston. The median home value hovers around $744,000, while household income is about $76,298. A family of four needs $108,248 in after-tax income to make ends meet.
Seattle is the most popular city in the country's Pacific northwest. It is perhaps best known for being the home of Starbucks and the birthplace of the grunge music scene. As many as 734,000 people call this city home. The median household income of $97,185.
The median home value is $981,548. The city's unemployment rate was 3.3% as of June 2020, which is slightly better than the national average.
10. Oakland, CA
Oakland is a short drive from San Francisco and is easily accessible to San Jose. It has a population of about 434,000. Buying a home in Oakland isn't nearly as expensive as in Orange County, but it's still pretty high. Values topped $981,000, according to Zillow.
Consider the following. The median household income for the city was $80,143. And it ranks among the top five most expensive cities for groceries and gas. For the first quarter of 2022, grocery items cost roughly 30% above the national average. The average price of gas for the city was $4.72 compared to $3.23 nationally.
What Are the 3 Most Expensive Cities in the United States?
The American three cities where you can expect to fork out the most money to live include New York City's Manhattan borough, Honolulu, and San Francisco, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. The organization publishes quarterly updates to the cost of living in the most expensive cities.
Why Are Cities So Expensive?
There are various factors that affect the cost of living in cities, especially major metropolises. One of the most obvious reasons is the cost of housing, whether you choose to rent or buy your property. Other considerations include the cost of gas and transportation, taxes, child care, insurance, and utilities. Supply and demand are generally what drive up prices,
What Makes New York and California so Expensive?
There's not just one reason why these two states are so expensive. Housing and taxes are generally two of the biggest factors that affect the cost of living in these areas. This spreads out to other areas of the economy, including child care, insurance, food and gas prices.
The Bottom Line
City living can be very expensive. According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, two New York City boroughs and four Californian cities made the top 10 list of most expensive cities during the first quarter of 2022. Median incomes are relatively lower compared to the cost of housing, food, gas, and taxes. The overall cost of living in these 10 cities is at least 49% higher than the national average. If you're hoping to move to a place that isn't nearly as costly, consider the three least expensive cities: Muskogee, OK; Harlingen, TX; and Kalamazoo, MI.