Letter from the Editor

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is the cost of living really lower?

For years, it has been accepted as fact when larger employers insist that it is appropriate to pay their workers in northwest Iowa less, because the cost of living is much less here than other regions and the urban areas.

One local development pro who recently moved to the area from a Des Moines suburb disagrees.

As they were considering their move, she did some careful research into the cost of living in a small Buena Vista County community as compared to an urban suburb. She found:

* Housing - at least in terms of buying a fairly recently contructed home, was no less.

* Food - No less; a hamburger or a gallon of milk costs pretty much the same anywhere.

* Transportation and gas - Actually less in the urban area than here.

* Clothing - Since there are few if any choices in very small towns, costs are higher because the shopper has to drive to one of the cities.

* Entertainment - No less for the choices there are; and some types of entertainment may require lengthy travel.

Her point is not to downgrade the area, which she is very high on, but to point out that workers here need and deserve the same kind of wages they would get for doing the same kind of jobs in Des Moines, Omaha or Chicago.

I would pick a couple of bones with her hypothesis - I think there are some tremendous housing bargains here that the cities couldn't touch - just not necessarily in the newest or fanciest range. Property taxes may be lower. And while gas may cost more, its possible to live five minutes from work in a small city while a 30-minute commute or more is not unusual for an urbanite. Still, she has a point.

People who live and work in rural northwest Iowa probably have a better work ethic than just about anywhere else. They are by and large well educated and trained. Their families have all the same needs and expenses as an employee anywhere in the country would have.

So why do we let corporate employers get away with the old "lower cost of living" gimmick for giving them less?

As I was thinking about this woman's comparisons, I couldn't help but here phrases echoing in my head that I hear over and over from people who work with local charities.

"Working poor," and "Just a paycheck away." And it is true. We have very little unemployment, just 2-4% usually. Our poverty level families work jobs, but their pay and benefits still leave them still below poverty level.

So try to tell them how low their "cost of living" is, when they can't feed their kids.

Our newcomer friend is right; this situation is wrong.