Gordon Does The Math On Wis. vs. Chicago Living Expenses | Wisconsin Public Television

Gordon Does The Math On Wis. vs. Chicago Living Expenses

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Premiere Date: 
March 9, 2018

Gordon Does The Math On Wis. vs. Chicago Living Expenses

WisContext reporter Scott Gordon delves into how effective the state’s advertising campaign is to attract new workers from Chicago to Wisconsin. Gordon makes a comparison of housing costs between the two areas, saying that while housing costs in Wisconsin are generally cheaper than in Chicago, the formula varies around the state.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin is spending millions of dollars to lure millennials out of Chicago and elsewhere to come here to work. In tonight's WisContext, a look at how arguments in the state's ad campaign, which trade on cost of living comparisons, stack up. We are joined by Scott Gordon, whose reporting appears this week on WisContext.org. Thanks a lot for being here.

Scott Gordon:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

So you looked at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's ad campaign to lure millennials out of Chicago to live in Wisconsin. And one of the figures that was used in the ad said that Wisconsin rents are 55% less than in Chicago. What did you learn about that claim?

Scott Gordon:

Well, no doubt it's cheaper to live in just about any place in Wisconsin than it is in Chicago. But we wanted to find out where the state was getting its numbers and if we could replicate some of these comparisons about rent. And the folks at WEDC did tell us some of their sources for this data, and we had a hard time exactly replicating that. And the kind of Chicago to Wisconsin as a whole thing was something I wasn't really able to dig into and is a little bit difficult, you know, to compare a city to a whole state in terms of rent. So that jumps out at me.

Frederica Freyberg:

So the ads also boast that in Milwaukee the cost of living is 22% less than Chicago. Do you know how WEDC determined that?

Scott Gordon:

They've been using some different figures from different websites and things. There's one that they use for rent data called RentCafe.com. There's another site called Sperling's Best Places that does a lot of comparisons between different cities and the economics and advantages and disadvantages and so forth. So they weren't necessarily the sources I would have expected the state to use, such as government sources or the cost of living index from the Council from Community and Economic Research, which is something of a standard.

Frederica Freyberg:

So that there are kind of gold standards, but my understanding from reading your reporting is that sometimes you just can't make this apples-to-apples comparison because some of the standards kind of compare different inks this. Is that accurate?

Scott Gordon:

Right. Yeah. And one thing I was really trying to ask at the outset of this, because I didn't know, was is this whole concept of cost of living a really hard and fast measurement in the, you know, economics world or is it something that's a little more nebulous. I think it's closer to the latter. You know, you have organizations like Council for Community and Economic Research that they put out a quarterly index of cost of living, where they're weighing together sort of housing costs. That's always the big one, of course, in any cost of living calculation that's credible. And also all kinds of things that kind of represents a whole mix of needs and wants that a household might have any given place.

Frederica Freyberg:

And you suggest in your reporting that often people move for a new job, obviously because of potentially a significant pay bump and that cost of living calculations may not be something that millennials are looking at if they're going to Chicago say for kind of a big-time job.

Scott Gordon:

Right. I mean, the numbers can't necessarily account for sort of the more nuanced and intangible decisions that people are making about where to move or where to take a new job or what they want out of life and the place that they live. People have obviously pointed out to me that people will be willing to shoulder a higher cost of living often if they're getting kind of the amenities and features that they like or if they feel that they're in a labor market that gives them more places to go.

Frederica Freyberg:

That's right. Well, Scott Gordon, thanks very much for your reporting. It can be seen again on WisContext org.

Scott Gordon:

Thanks very much.

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WisContext serves the residents of Wisconsin, providing information and insight into issues as they affect the state.