Dollars go further in Middle Georgia compared to rest of nation

mstucka@macon.comApril 25, 2014 

Maria Aguilar spent all her life around New York City until she hopped on a Greyhound bus for 26 hours. Her aunt picked her up in Macon to take her to Byron.

“On the drive there, I decided I wanted to move. I was so used to seeing buildings everywhere. I’d never seen little small houses,” recalled Aguilar, 35. Just two days later, she was moving, with her whole family, to Middle Georgia. She hasn’t looked back.

“A three bedroom where I was living was maybe 1,300 square feet. That was $2,100 a month. When you come here and you can get a whole house for half that price, it’s a huge difference,” she said.

Middle Georgia fares well in a fresh set of statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Metropolitan Macon’s costs are just 88 percent of the United States average, according to the estimates. Of metropolitan areas between 200,000 and 250,000 people, Macon is the second cheapest of the 31 metro regions in that listing. Metro Macon’s rent average is just 65 percent of the national average, the statistics suggest.

By those standards, metropolitan Warner Robins is more expensive but still cheaper than about half of the country. The metro region overall costs 91 percent as much as the national average, with rents costing 73.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis figures. The overall figure puts Warner Robins roughly in the middle of the pack of comparably sized cities, with metro regions that have 150,000 to 200,000 people.

Metropolitan Warner Robins includes Houston, Peach and Pulaski counties. Metropolitan Macon includes Bibb, Crawford, Jones, Monroe and Twiggs counties.

Greg George, director of Middle Georgia State College’s Center for Economic Analysis, said such numbers are useful for people who may move for a different job but need to know how to compare the two areas.

“What you need to know is what it costs to live in a particular place. Once you know that, you’ll know how much you need to maintain your standard of living that you’re comfortable with,” he said.

The Telegraph found that most of the South, and parts of the Midwest, hosted most of the lowest-cost metropolitan regions. Coastal areas in the South, and most of Florida, were among the costliest in the region. Densely populated metropolitan regions on the East and West coasts had some of the highest costs in the nation.

Aguilar said she knew of people living on Long Island outside New York City who were paying $8,000 to $11,000 per month for housing. Though rent is much cheaper here, she finds Wal-Marts in Middle Georgia can’t compete with some of the prices of New York.

“To eat, it’s crazy cheaper in New York than here. You have so many restaurants, so many supermarkets, and everybody’s competing with everybody,” she said.

Aguilar said she was working for Wells Fargo but is now a stay-at-home mother of two. She’s not moving back to New York.

“It’s too hectic now,” she said. “I’m used to Georgia.”

George said prices can vary dramatically between metropolitan regions, particularly when places the size of metro Macon are compared to larger cities. He said he knows people in San Francisco with $1.5 million houses that would cost $150,000 here.

“Obviously a dollar goes a lot farther in Macon than it does in Manhattan,” George said.

A dollar can also go further in Macon than Savannah, said Chris Thompson, a trial lawyer who was born and raised in Macon and moved back to the Middle Georgia city after 16 years of living on the outskirts of Savannah.

“You can get more house here, fairly substantially more house in Macon, than you can in Savannah,” said Thompson, who speculated Savannah costs more because it gets much tourism.

His family now lives in North Macon, in Wesleyan Woods. Thompson said his family is happy, and his children love school. He’s also happy, too.

“I’m one of the people who loves Macon,” he said.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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