Nobody From Nowhere (@i8dc)

Occasional Common Sense

Wages and Cost-of-Living: Houston v. Boston v. New York

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Kevin Williamson takes issue with Paul Krugman (again).  He’s got some good points to make, but he chooses statistics poorly to try to make his case:

Are wages low in Texas? There is one question one must always ask when dealing with Paul Krugman’s statements of fact, at least when he’s writing in the New York Times: Is this true? Since he cites New York and Massachusetts, let’s do some comparison shopping between relevant U.S. metros: Harris County (that’s Houston and environs to you), Kings County (Brooklyn), and Suffolk County (Boston).

Wait wait wait wait.  Seriously, comparing the entire Houston metropolitan area (4.1 million people in Harris County) against these relatively small portions of greater New York (2.56 million) and Boston (0.72 million)?  Including wealthy Houston neighborhoods like River Oaks (4 miles from downtown) but not Boston neighborhoods like Brookline (closer) or Cambridge (closer still) or parts of New York like oh-I-don’t-know — MANHATTAN?

Houston, like Brooklyn and Boston, is a mixed bag: wealthy enclaves, immigrant communities rich and poor, students, government workers — your usual big urban confluence.

Yes, and Boston and Brooklyn have so much in common with Katy, which is 30 miles from Houston’s center but still in Harris County.  To get to Katy, you have to drive past the Loop (Houston beltway), then past the Beltway 8 (the outer Houston beltway), and then you have to drive another 15 miles. How many ranches are there in South Boston?

Suffolk County is 58.5 square miles.  Harris County is more than 50 miles wide. 

Harris County has more land area than Rhode Island.

Kings County is 15 times more densely populated than Harris County; so is it really a surprise that single family homes are more prevalent in Houston?One might instead note that there are 10 times as many mobile homes per capita in Houston, if one were trying to slant things in a different way.

The “usual big urban confluence” comparison, this ain’t.

Why not compare all of Houston against all of New York and Boston?  It’s easy enough, using metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in the latest (2009) American Community Survey.  Sure, New York’s much bigger (19 million) than Houston (6 million) or Boston (4.6 million).  But at least then we’re comparing different varieties of apples.

“In Harris County, the median household income is $50,577. In Brooklyn, it is $42,932, and in Suffolk County (which includes Boston and some nearby communities) it was $53,751. So, Boston has a median household income about 6 percent higher than Houston’s, while Brooklyn’s is about 15 percent lower than Houston’s.”

And now the MSA comparison: median household income in Houston is $54,146, 7.1% higher than Williamson’s numbers.  In Boston it’s $69,334, or 29.4% higher than Williamson says, and in New York it’s $62,887 — a whopping 46.5% higher than Williamson’s sample.  So Boston and particularly New York incomes are much higher than Houston incomes.

And they need to be – Williamson is absolutely right that buying a place to live in Houston is much more affordable than buying one in either Boston or New York.  Chalk that up to geography (the only hills in Houston are the crests of the streets that slope to the gutters, which are the only rivers), age, and zoning or lack thereof.  However, the same does not hold true for renting; the median rent in Houston is $801/month, while it’s $1,112 in Boston and $1,072 in New York.  So while the median house is much cheaper in Houston, the median apartment is not; median rent/income is 17.8% in Houston, 19.2% in Boston, and 20.5% in New York.

One might also choose not to have a car in New York; 30.6% do (compared to 12.7% in Boston and 6.1% in Houston).  Figure that up in the  monthly budget and New York may be cheaper for many renters than either Houston or Boston.




Written by David Clayton

August 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm

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