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Asheville makes NPR’s ‘worst place to live’ list: ‘The Paris of the South’ lands on ‘lowest standard of living’ lists for 3 groupings of workers
Saturday, 01 January 2022 15:59

From Staff Reports

Asheville, which in recent years has become a regular atop — or near the top — of “best of” lists for livability and the area’s scenic beauty among cities across the nation and basking in being fondly called 

“the Paris of the South,” recently sustained a zinger to its reputation with its inclusion in three categories on a “Worst Place to Live” list by National Public Radio’s Planet Money.

The Dec. 14 article — headlined, “The best and worst places to live if you only care about money” — cited a recent Stanford University study about livability and income in its findings.

To that end, Asheville landed on three highly unfavorable lists, including the following:

• Asheville was ranked fifth among the five places with the lowest standard of living for college graduates. Just ahead of Asheville on this “worst” list were Medford, Oregon.; Provo, Utah; Salem, Oregon; and Olympia, Washington.

• Asheville led the list for the five places with the lowest standard of living for those with only a high school diploma. Just behind Asheville on this “worst” list were San Diego, California; Manhattan, Kansas; Medford, Oregon; and Jacksonville, N.C.

• Asheville was ranked fifth among the places with the lowest standard of living for those who did not finish high school. Even worse than Asheville on this “worst” list were San Diego; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Los Angeles; and Miami.

In stark contrast, Natchez, Mississippi, emerged as a Southern alternative to Asheville in the study, in terms of standard of living.

“A fascinating new study by Stanford University economist Rebecca Diamond and University of California, Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti finds that Natchez and its surrounding area offer one of the highest standards of living in the U.S. for workers without college degrees,” the Planet Money story noted.

Planet Money is billed as “an American podcast and blog produced by NPR. “

The researchers spent four years “crunching an enormous data set that dives into the day-to-day finances of 3 million American households. This allowed them to see how much people earn, how much they spend and what they buy,” the Planet Money story noted.

In the final step, the researchers devised a cost-of-living index that “paints a vivid picture of prices and typical consumption patterns throughout the United States.” 

Overall, Silicon Valley in California ranked as the most expensive area in the country, while Natchez, Mississippi, topped the list for most affordable.

“There’s obviously much more to the value of living in a place than simply the size of your paycheck minus the cost of stuff you buy — like the cultural scene, the opportunities for your kids, the crime rate, the quality of schools and bars, the proximity to hiking trails or surfing spots and so on,” the story stated.

In its Dec. 19 story on the Planet Money article, the Asheville Citizen Times wrote the following:.

“While Asheville has no surfing, other than unemployed people on friends’ couches, it is known for its natural beauty, a moderate climate, proximity to national and state parks, vibrant dining and beer scenes, and an overall quirky vibe. And people keep moving here in droves, whether for retirement or work.

“Asheville certainly makes a lot of ‘best of’ lists, whether it’s ‘Best Places to Live for Singles’ (Money Magazine) or one of the ‘10 Best Places to Retire in America,’ ( Ironically, a recent assessment said Asheville ranks fourth in top cities job seekers ‘are now flocking to.’

“In short, the article is based on a ‘cold calculation,’ as (the story’s writer Greg) Rosalsky puts it, based on average income minus taxes and expenses.

“‘This cold calculation misses a lot of the intangible and priceless stuff that can make a place cool,’ he writes,” the ACT pointed out.

“One other caveat with the Stanford study: the researchers’ data dates to 2014, so it’s a little dated. But Asheville does routinely rank among the most expensive places to live in North Carolina, and its wages lag behind other metro areas in the state. As the Citizen Times reported in May, Asheville has the highest cost of living in the state, outpacing large metro areas such as Raleigh and Charlotte,” the ACT added.

“While its livability may be in question, Asheville absolutely has an embarrassing number of job openings. As of late October, the metro region had about 23,000 job openings, and just over 8,000 unemployed individuals in the region, according to Nathan Ramsey, director of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board.

“‘If every unemployed individual got a job, we would still have around 15,000 job openings,” the ACT quoted Ramsey as saying in October.. “Our greatest challenge is the decline in our workforce since March 2020,’” 



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