It’s a point I’ve made before in this column: Housing isn’t the only reason Seattle has a high cost of living — just about everything is expensive in our city. Sometimes you might not even realize it.
And here’s one timely example. Seattle is the second most expensive city in the nation to host a Labor Day barbecue, based on the local cost of a variety of meats, according to a new ranking of more than 250 U.S. cities.
The folks who publish the Cost of Living Index had some fun with the data they collect on the cost of consumer goods and services around the nation — something they’ve been doing on a quarterly basis for more than 50 years.
To mark the Labor Day holiday, they created a “BBQ Index” based on the combined costs of the four types of meat that are included in their data: steak, ground beef, pork sausage and chicken. The index compares the cost of each of these meats locally with the survey average, and combines the four to arrive at an index number. The average is set at 100. (They used their most recent data, which is for the second quarter of 2021.)
Seattle’s BBQ Index number came out at a whopping 150.2, which means those four meats are will cost you 50.2% more here than the average cost for the 258 cities in the survey.
Our housing costs might be lower than those in Manhattan or in San Francisco, but barbecue meats? Nope.
The only city with a higher index number is Kodiak, Alaska — a lot of grocery items are more expensive in Alaska (and also Hawaii) due to shipping costs. After, Seattle, the borough of Manhattan in New York City ranks third.
Four of the five cheapest places to hold your Labor Day barbecue are in Texas, which is also the top producer of beef. But Jackson, Mississippi, ranks No. 1, with a BBQ Index of 73.7 — that means the four types of meat combined are 26.3% lower than the survey average.
To produce the Cost of Living Index, which was first published in 1968, hundreds of researchers collect data at the local level on prices for more than 60 goods and services. For a city the size of Seattle, they collect 10 sample prices for each item.
All the researchers in each location collect their data during the same three-day period each quarter. They’re not hunting for bargains, either. Researchers are instructed to scout for prices with the mindset of a person in a professional or managerial occupation. Researchers are also given precise, detailed instructions on how to select each item (such as brand, size and so on) to ensure the items are as comparable as possible between cities. Taxes are not included in the price.
Take the pork sausage, as an example. Researchers in Seattle would not be allowed to get prices from a local, artisan sausage maker in Pike Place Market. They have to price it at a grocery supermarket, and it has to a one-pound package of either Jimmy Dean or Owens brand, in any pure-pork variety.
The survey costs for the four types of meat in Seattle are: $16.32 per pound for rib-eye steak; $5.82 per pound for ground beef; $5.51 for the pork sausage; and $2.59 per pound for whole chicken. Seattle ranks in the top 10 for all four types of meat, and has the second-highest costs for both ground beef and chicken.
There are eight other cities in Washington included in the index. After Seattle, the highest barbecue-meat costs are in Mount Vernon, with an index of 128.1, or 28.1% higher than the survey average.
And the lowest?
Washington’s bargain barbecue city is Spokane, with an index score of 93.9, or 6.1% lower than the survey average.