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If you gross $75,000 a year in Huntsville, Alabama you may be high income but . . .
Dennis Wyatt RGB
Dennis Wyatt

If you are paying attention to the squabbling over the size of the next boatload of money Congress is trying to launch, you will notice some terminology that may make you laugh.

The debate about whether people who are still working really need additional COVID relief is legit. The fight over the $75,000 threshold is bogus.

Households grossing $75,000 a year are being called high income earners by perhaps three-quarters of the Republicans and a third or so of the Democrats.

That’s a laughable assertion if you live in Manteca as well as places like Pleasanton, San Jose, Turlock, Fremont, Oakland, Lathrop and Tracy to name a few.

And it underscores why a one-size fits all approach to the “inequities” being repackaged today in social justice banter, shows the economic divide in America is deeper than it is being portrayed by the federal government.

That’s because it assumes someone making $75,000 in San Jose should have their income raided to uplift someone making $45,000 in Kansas. The reality are those two incomes may actually be on the same economic footing while an argument can be made someone pulling down $75,000 in San Jose may actually be worse off than someone grossing $45,000 on Kansas.

It is why Congress’ plan for relief from the economic fallout of government ordered COVID-19 lockdown should be called for what it is — a money grab making people who are actually worse off pay for someone who is still working but making less money.

That’s because the “real” level of help being offered people is not the same. One’s relative economic well-being is based on where you live. We’re not just talking Beverly Hills and West Palm Beach versus a rural town in the Midwest. It’s where you are in terms of being slammed by the impact of the cost of living.

The $2,000 overall second round relief checks everyone is having a tizzy over — the $600 already sent and the $1,400 that is being bantered about — is far from being equal.

If you are part of the median household in Huntsville, Alabama as opposed to Manteca the $2,000 will go 25.1 percent farther to cover basic needs such as housing, food, energy and gasoline. The same check will go 26 percent farther in Austin, Texas; 26.5 percent farther in Nashville, Tennessee; 28.4 percent farther in St. Louis, Missouri; and even 6.2 percent farther in Chicago.

That’s based on median household incomes and the cost of basic necessities using data gleaned from the American Community Survey that is part of the Census Bureau.

It underlines once again that the one-size-fits-all approach of Washington, D.C., government edicts involving taxes and money is widening and not narrowing the wealth gap.

PayScale is a 20-year-old software and data firm that analyzes the cost of living across the country to help employers manage their employee compensation and employees understand their work in the job market. The firm takes economic data the federal government gleans every year and provides a boots-on-the-ground take on economic reality.

As such it provides eye-opening data that underscores how everything from the tax code and earned income tax credits to taxes in individual income are far from being fair.

The assumption made in the tax code — and subsequently almost all tax-related polices from the federal level assumes $72,000 a year — or $26,000 a year — has the same buying power anywhere in the United States.

The real overall cost of living in Manteca is 31 percent higher than the national norm on the PayScale analysis. It is even higher than in Chicago where the cost of living is 23 percent higher than the national average.

Compare Austin — a city of 988,000 — with Manteca and its 87,000 residents. The median household income is $71,576 in Austin and $72,867 in Manteca. Yet based on the cost of living to support the same standard of living for a median household in Manteca you need to gross $50,000 a year as opposed to $37,049 in Austin.

And it’s just not Manteca in the San Joaquin Valley — long touted as an impoverished region by federal agencies such as the Congressional Budget Office that has described it as the “New Appalachia” due to the high cost of living and relatively low wages. Turlock as a university town with 74,297 residents based on the PayScale analysis has a cost-of-living 10 percent higher than the national average.

It takes $42,024 a year to maintain the same standard of living pricing out basic necessities than it does in Austin where you can get by with $4,975 less.

Keep in mind the cost of housing is based on the price to buy — and in the case of apartments to rent — in the respective communities. As such housing costs in Manteca are a whopping 92 percent above the national median while just 2 percent above in Texas. Turlock housing costs are 19 percent above the national average.

Compared to the national median utilities are 17 percent higher in Manteca and 12 percent lower in Austin while groceries are 16 percent higher in Manteca and 12 percent lower on Austin.

Given that over 13 percent of the dollar value of farm products are grown in California with roughly two thirds of fruit and nuts and one third the vegetables with most of that in the San Joaquin Valley the fact groceries are higher in Manteca than Austin should stun you.

California is by far the largest milk producing state accounting for a fifth of all milk in the United States while Texas is fifth. Yet a gallon of milk is 60 cents higher in California than in Texas.

As for housing costs the majority of locales in California — from urban area, to mountain regions, to the valleys — are higher than the national average.

The bottom line is $75,000 goes significantly farther in the entire state of Alabama for basic necessities than it does almost anywhere in California.

Yet there are arguments being made to drop as low as $45,000 a year for handouts with minimal qualifications meaning you get it whether you are working or not when it comes to COVID-19 relief.

There are serious questions about distributing “free” money to anyone who is still working and getting along without government assistance. But if what is driving anyone in Congress to support those who are “hurting”, they are actually bypassing people who are hurting more economically than some of the people they are helping.

The patchwork quilt of economic nuances, however, are probably too challenging for politicians to deal with given they seem at times to not want to delve deeper than 144 characters into the issues of the day.