ST. GEORGE — The cost of most essentials has risen over the last few years, and many Southern Utahns are feeling the pinch — some more than others.

This chart shows how the cost of some essential items changed in the U.S. from December 2022 to 2023 | Image by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News | Click to enlarge

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices of many items in the U.S. rose from December 2022 to December 2023. For instance, food prices rose by 2.7%, rent by 6.5% and motor vehicle insurance by 20.3%. Still, some prices did drop, with energy costs seeing a 2% decrease and airline fares falling by 9.4%.

Utah ranked No. 15 in a WalletHub study listing the best states to raise a family but No. 32 in affordability. The state had the fourth-lowest child care costs and the third-lowest percentage of impoverished families.

On health care, Forbes ranked Utah as the most cost-effective state. It was ranked as No. 20 for cost of living and No. 35 for disposable income, with residents estimated to have nearly $17,000 left over after purchasing the essentials. The state had the sixth-highest mortgage costs and the 18th-highest rent.

The state’s unrevised unemployment rate is 2.7%, while the national rate was last reported at 3.7%, St. George News previously reported. And while federal efforts to combat inflation appear to have produced more of a dampening effect on the economy this year compared to last, Utah Chief Economist Mark Knold said, “Utah is still pushing forward with job growth.”

This file photo shows gas prices at a Sinclair station on Old Highway 91, Cedar City, Utah, June 23, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

The unemployment rate in St. George rose from 2.5% in November 2022 to 3.1% in November 2023, and Cedar City’s unemployment jumped from 2.4% to 2.8% during that same period, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

In Cedar City, the median household income from 2018-2022 was $60,778, with approximately 17.7% of people in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In St. George, median household income was $69,333, with 10.1% of people in poverty.

The cost of living is an estimated 12% lower in Cedar City than in St. George. According to Forbes Advisor, a person making $70,000 annually before moving from St. George to Cedar City would need an approximate salary of $63,000 to maintain their standard of living.

While transportation costs averaged about 2% higher in Cedar City, the prices of health care and miscellaneous goods and services were estimated to be 3% and 7% lower, respectively. Still, those in St. George are more likely to find a cheaper cup of coffee, with the cost of a cup of Joe averaging about 5% lower, according to Forbes.

This chart shows how the median price of homes changed in 2020, 2022 and 2023 in Iron County, Washington County and Utah | Image by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Forbes estimated that housing costs would be about 23% lower in Cedar City. Southern Utahns pay an average of $1,592 for rent in St. George versus $1,115 in Cedar City, which is approximately 42.8% lower in cost. Additionally, energy costs average about 13% lower, while phone bills are .1% higher in Cedar City. And current mortgage costs are an average of 25.5% lower in Cedar City.

The median sales price for homes in Iron County rose 3.5% — $345,000 to $357,055 — from December 2022 to 2023. In 2020, the median price was $254,309.

During that same period, median sales prices fell 1% in Washington County, from $499,995 to $495,000, up from $400,000 in 2020, said Jim Rushton, who works with the Stratum Real Estate Group and is the former president of the Iron County Board of Realtors. Rushton was referencing data provided by the Utah Association of Realtors.

Stock image, St. George News

While there is some talk of the market potentially crashing, which could lower home prices, Rushton told St. George News this isn’t the “story that those numbers are telling.”

While new listings are up over 80% in Iron County from December 2022 to 2023, the inventory of homes for sale dropped 3.8% from 313 to 301. This is likely due to more homes being sold, he said.

In Washington County, new listings dropped 6.1%, and inventory decreased by 14.6% from 1,438 to 1,228, Rushton said.

“We’re seeing our inventory is shrinking right now, which would raise prices with supply and demand,” he said. “And so prices should be going up. Interest rates are coming down a little bit, which also is an indicator of prices going up.”

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