Asheville – In the past few years, national publications championed Asheville as one of the best vacation spots.
The area’s natural beauty, top rated cuisine and cultural experiences position the area as a top tourist spot. It was named #8 on Travel + Leisure’s “50 Best Places to Travel in 2020. The trusted vacation magazine said this about the city:
“With a small-town feel and big-city cultural cred, Asheville, North Carolina, is home to artists, musicians, and food and drink entrepreneurs who were making microbrews and serving farm-to-table meals long before such things were de rigueur,” Travel + Leisure wrote.
Yet, a recent National Public Radio Planet Money piece isn’t as kind to the city. A Dec. 14 article titled, “The best and worst places to live if you only care about money” found that the “Land of the Sky” fared poorly in a recent Stanford University study about livability and income. NPR featured Asheville on three damaging lists:
1. The five places with the lowest standard of living for college graduates. Asheville came in fifth, after Medford, Oregon; Provo, Utah; Salem, Oregon; and Olympia, Washington.
2. The five places with the lowest standard of living for those with only a high school diploma. Asheville topped this list, followed by San Diego, California; Manhattan, Kansas; Medford, Oregon; and Jacksonville, North Carolina.
3. The five places with the lowest standard of living for those who didn’t finish high school. Asheville was fifth on this list, following San Diego; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Los Angeles; and Miami.
Planet Money’s Greg Rosalsky wrote that Stanford researchers spent four years “crunching an enormous data set that dives into the day-to-day finances of 3 million American households. This allowed them to see how much people earn, how much they spend and what they buy.”
Researchers then created a cost-of-living index to “paint a vivid picture of prices and typical consumption patterns throughout the United States.” Silicon Valley, CA topped the list as most expensive while Natchez, MS is the most affordable.
Essentially, the article is based on average income minus taxes and expenses. It’s important to note that the data is based on 2014 numbers, yet some locals may argue that the city has increased in cost of living since then. According to national price data collected by the Council for Community and Economic Research released in 2021, Asheville is the most expensive city in North Carolina. CCER data found that the Asheville metropolitan area’s cost of living is 106% above the average.
Yet, average pay is lower than other metropolitan cities in the state and is under the United States’ average. 2019 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show Buncombe, Madison, Henderson and Haywood counties with a per capita income of $47,432. That is 16% less than the average $56,490 earned by U.S. workers.
“The differences in standard of living across places are very large for high school dropouts in particular,” Enrico Moretti, one of the study’s authors, told Planet Money. “A family, headed by a high school dropout, who moves from the most expensive city in the U.S. to the most affordable one would gain 26% in terms of consumption. There’s a significant improvement in what they can afford to buy.”
Yet, Rosalsky wrote that, “There’s obviously much more to the value of living in a place than simply the size of your paycheck minus the cost of stuff you buy. Like the cultural scene, the opportunities for your kids, the crime rate, the quality of schools and bars, the proximity to hiking trails or surfing spots and so on.”
Even so, Asheville is a hot place for both tourists and transplants. The mountain city made Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live for Singles” and Money.com’s “10 Best Places to Retire to in America.” Realtor.com found that the city sits at number four in “Top Cities Job Seekers Are Now Flocking To.”