The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Thinking about moving? Here’s how far your dollar goes everywhere in the U.S.

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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If you live and work in Hawaii and are offered a job at the same salary in any state, consider taking it. Odds are that your income will buy you more there.

A salary of $53,046—the national median—has the same  purchasing power in Hawaii as a salary of $39,106 in Mississippi. Prices are, on average, higher in the nation’s capital than in any state, according to first-ever data released on Thursday by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data come in the form of a new measure: Regional Price Parities. RPP’s track the difference in prices of goods and services across states and metropolitan areas in a given year, serving as a kind of cost-of-living guide.

Among states, a dollar buys the most goods and services in Mississippi, while it will buys the least in Hawaii (or D.C. if you group it with the states as the Census does). The Commerce Department even has RPP’s for rent. A $2,000 rent in Hawaii goes about as far as a $781 rent in Mississippi.

The math behind the comparison is pretty simple. The RPP for rents in Hawaii is 159, meaning rents there are 59 percent above the national average (which is equal to an RPP of 100). The same value for Mississippi is 62.1, meaning average rents there are nearly 38 percent below the national average.

To compare two regions with different RPP’s, you do some basic algebra: 2000/1.59 = y/.621. It’s easy math, but don’t worry, we made you a calculator to make things even easier. (You can find RPP’s for each state at the end of this post or for various metro areas in the map below.)

Income/rent in Region A:

RPP for Region A (select a state or enter a custom number):

RPP for Region B (select a state or enter a custom number):

To maintain your purchasing power, you’d have to earn/pay this much in Region B:

Drill down even further and the biggest discrepancy you’ll find in overall purchasing power is between the Urban Honolulu metropolitan area and the Danville, Ill., metro area. In the former, prices are 22.9 percent above the national average. In the latter, they’re 20.6 percent below. Ten thousand dollars in Honolulu will go as far as $6,461 in Danville, in terms of purchasing power. (The map below shows the RPP for all items as well as just for rents for hundreds of metro areas. Some available regions were excluded due to technological limitations.)

Look at metro area rents and the divide between most and least is even more severe. In the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area, the RPP for rents is 191. In the Florence-Muscle Shoals, Ala., area it’s 50.2. That means a $2,000 rent in the former buys you the equivalent of a roughly $526 rent in the latter.

Here’s a breakdown of state RPP’s: (UPDATED Friday, April 25: The language in the chart below was changed to better clarify what it shows.)