March 18, 1998 in Nation/World

Home, Medical Prices Push Spokane Living Costs Above U.S. Average

Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revie
 

It costs more to live in Spokane than in most places across the country, the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association reports.

Housing and health care are extra expensive in Spokane, according to the research association’s latest Cost of Living Index.

Figures for the third quarter of 1997 show the cost of shelter in Spokane is 14 percent higher than in the nation as a whole.

That’s huge because shelter accounts for more than a quarter of the total cost of living in Spokane.

Health care costs 20 percent more in Spokane than most other places in the nation. However, health care costs account for just 5 percent of total living expenses.

But in Spokane, even groceries are pricey, costing 3 percent more than the U.S. average.

The result is that total living costs in Spokane top the national average by a little over 3 percent.

The only real bargains in Spokane these days are utilities. Although they represent just 8 percent of the average household budget, utilities here cost 40 percent less than the national average.

Transportation costs, too, run a little less than average - 7 percent less.

Everything else - which the index lumps into a category called “miscellaneous goods and services” - runs 2 percent more than the national average.

Boise’s overall cost of living tops the national average by 3 percent, same as Spokane’s.

But in Boise - corporate headquarters for Albertson’s Food & Drug - groceries cost 2 percent less than the national average, and 5 percent less than in Spokane. In Boise, as in Spokane, high living costs are partially offset by low utilities costs - 30 percent less than the national average.

Seattle wasn’t included in this index, but the total cost of living just next door in Tacoma was exactly 1 percent above the national average. Utilities, as elsewhere in the region, were cheap - 29 percent less than average. But health care was a staggering 40 percent higher.

For comparative purposes, the closest metropolitan area in the index is the Tri-Cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick. Their total living costs average 2 percent less than the nation’s.

A few years ago, the Tri-Cities and Spokane both ranked among the top 10 hottest housing markets in the nation for price increases, month after month. As noted above, Spokane housing costs have held strong. At 14 percent higher than the national average in this cost-of-living study, maybe too strong in some people’s view. But in the Tri-Cities, housing costs have tumbled. Now housing there costs 7 percent less than the rest of the country.

Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of personal perspective.

AWB gives lawmakers a passing grade

Washington businesses fared about as well as could be expected in a largely uneventful legislative session, from the viewpoint of the state’s largest business lobby.

“The key issue was transportation funding,” says Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business. “We need to start addressing critical long-term needs. Lawmakers placed on this fall’s ballot a package that will cut the motor vehicle licensing tax and fund $2.4 billion worth of interim projects. That’s a start.”

In the area of regulatory reform, said Brunell, “We made some progress.” A bill now awaiting the governor’s signature would help Washington businesses distinguish between rules which have the force of law behind them and regulatory agency directives or guidelines. AWB charges that overzealous agencies sometimes are able to exceed their authority simply by circumventing the rulemaking process.

Critics blast giant bookstore chains

Big was a dirty word at the Spring Tradeshow and Convention of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association last weekend in Coeur d’Alene.

A panel of participants had almost nothing good to say about giant bookstore chains and distributors. The consensus was that unsustainable growth by industry giants is cannibalizing the book industry, pricing independent stores out of business, and wreaking cultural havoc in communities across the country. Barnes & Noble, the “world’s largest bookstore,” and runner-up Borders, both reportedly are negotiating with property managers in North Spokane and in the Valley.

Leonard Garment, legal counsel to presidents, confidant of the power elite, high profile lawyer turned literary figure, and most recently the author of a Forbes magazine piece that savaged huge bookstore chains, recounted the experiences of “a book tour from hell.”

Although his book of memoirs received wide critical acclaim, sales departments of giant chains had already relegated Crazy Rhythm to obscurity long before it was even published. Without anybody even bothering to read it.

When he showed up at scheduled autograph sessions arranged by his publisher, big chain stores hadn’t bothered even to order the book. Some even insisted there was no such title on record. Turns out some of those doing the ordering couldn’t spell rhythm.

“It is a fact of our culture today,” Garment lamented, “that the bottom line triumphs over everything.”

“I don’t think quitting is the right answer,” chipped in James Hepworth, publisher of the Confluence Press, Lewiston, Idaho. “Every single day, I have to ask myself how I am going to continue to make it. But I think we have to persist.”

He foresees the collapse of overbuilt giants. “The question is,” he said, “who will be there when it all comes down, and how will bookselling go forward?”

Meantime, Duse McLean, publisher of Thistle Press, Seattle, said, “For the small publisher, big distributors are as much or more of a problem than the big bookstore chains.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes a notes column each Wednesday. If you have business items of regional interest for future columns, call 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes a notes column each Wednesday. If you have business items of regional interest for future columns, call 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review


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