The “Looking Glass” reflects on economic and real estate trends through two distinct lenses: the “glass half full” of the optimist and the “glass half empty” of the pessimist.
Buzz: California ranked atop four national scorecards looking at happiness while being near the top of the cost-of-living rankings.
Sources: My trusty spreadsheet looked at four recent “happiness” rankings and a state-to-state study of disposable incomes.
Discussion: Is California worth the high price?
Glass half full
California ranks on four scorecards as a “happy place” nationwide.
Consider the top 10 state in rankings that try to put numbers on a state’s “happiness.” The varied mathematics of these studies compare demographics, mental health, well-being, public safety and economic opportunity.
California was No. 7 on WalletHub’s happiness ranking. The state landed an eighth-place finish in Top Data’s ballots. There was a rank no. 9 from NiceRx review.
And California was the fourth least lonely state on AgingInPlace.com’s “Most Lonely States” list.
Next, I averaged the rankings for each state from the four report cards. By that math, California ranks as the third-happiest state in my composite well-being ranking.
Just before California were Hawaii and New Jersey. Close behind were Maryland and Minnesota.
At the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia was number 50, then Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Ohio.
Glass half empty
California happiness doesn’t come cheap. So what is the price of this possible paradise?
California’s per capita income of $76,386 for 2021 ranked fourth among states, according to a review of federal data from Upgraded Points. That’s 26% above the median income for all states.
But the typical California tax bill and high cost of living reduce that bounty by $17,504. Those extra costs are more than triple the average state adjustments to a salary.
So, after those expenses are paid, Californians are left with $58,882 in disposable income.
Yes, it is in tenth place. Yet it is only 6% above the 50-state average.
By the way, the states with the top nine tax/cost-adjusted incomes were Connecticut, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Alaska, Nebraska, and Washington state.
The last five? Mississippi, then Hawaii, Arizona, Alabama and New Mexico.
No collection of studies can provide a perfect answer to the question, “Is the California lifestyle worth it?”
California’s expensive cost of living means it’s a tough sell even for people who appreciate the Golden State’s fine qualities.
Look, no state is for everyone. And finances are also a big factor in where people choose to live.
These disposable income figures are another reminder that California living leaves many people with meager monetary cushions.
Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at [email protected]