Most of us probably know about how much money we make each year. But, do you know exactly how much it actually costs for you to get through each day? Can you easily tally up your housing, transportation, food and even childcare costs? Researchers with the Nantucket Data Platform set out to answer that question for Nantucket residents, with some interesting, if not exactly surprising, results.
WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked the platform's founder, Alan Worden, to learn what their new cost of living calculator came up with for Nantucket, and how it can be used in communities around the country. She also talked with Worden about how their work has influenced flight patterns, and how they'll use data to better understand economic growth.
Eident Alan, thanks so much for talking with us again. It's great to be talking with you.
Worden Glad to be here.
Eident This calculator kind of proved something that we all know anecdotally, and that is: it's not cheap to live on Nantucket. Tell us a little bit more about what the calculator found for the island.
Worden So, the good news is we're less expensive than San Francisco.
Eident OK. [laughing]
Worden We're a little less than Suffolk County, which is Boston, but also the suburbs to the southwest. And specifically for Nantucket, one of the things our calculator does, that no other calculator does, is it allows you to say how many people are in your family and how many bedrooms are in your housing unit. Because, there is a big difference in cost if you're a single person living in a one-bedroom, or a family of four living in a three-bedroom. So, our calculator allows you to calculate the differences.
And the way those translate is, if you're a family of four living in a three-bedroom on Nantucket, you need to earn about $152,000 dollars to manage your costs. If you don't have children, maybe you're just being a two-bedroom house, two adults would still need $100,000. And if you're just a single person living in a one- bedroom, the calculator would would show that you need about $67,000 to live. So, the range $67,000 to $152,000.
Eident This tool that the Nantucket data platform developed allows for things like putting in the number of bedrooms. Is that why you developed a tool? Because there are other cost of living calculators out there.
Worden Honestly, when we started this, we assumed we would find a cost of living calculator that was reliable and we would tune it up for the eccentricities of Nantucket. And what we found in general, they were actually very, very weak.
Worden Some calculators didn't even include childcare, which, you know, can be $10- or $15,000 dollars a year. They would average food costs. They would take a state food cost, an average that across counties. And, we know there's a difference in food costs at the county level.
And, there were issues like transportation and taxes that we thought were weak. And, so we ended up having to build our own methodology. And again, I thought, OK, we're just going to do this for Nantucket. But obviously, you need to compare Nantucket to other places. So, we focused on reliable data that would describe these costs at the county level. And now our indicator, our calculator, will work for every county in the country.
Eident How do you want people to use this tool now that they can kind of see the numbers in real dollars?
Worden It really is critical at the local level because, if people move to Nantucket and have an unrealistic view of what things cost, or employers might employ those folks at a lower salary than what it takes to live there, because they never had the numbers before, we run the risk of having a revolving door of employees/community members in our community. And that's really unhealthy.
Worden One of the first people who raised this issue with us, with the chief of police, who said, "you know, if we don't pay police officers a living wage, young folks will come here, they'll take advantage of our training, but they won't stay here because they can't afford to live here. They'll leave, and we won't have a police force that would truly understand the community's needs."
And so, beyond the interesting technical issues of methodology and data aggregation, et cetera, it really comes down to how can we have a stable community where people can afford to live and raise their families in a reasonable standard of living. And that's what we hope we've achieved by sharing the costs with employers and employees.
Eident How has your work with the data platform influenced things like flights to and from the island?
Worden Well, that's a huge win. We again, using mobility data, we were able to understand where people were coming from on their way to Nantucket. And then the airports said, "look, we know most people are coming from Boston or New York. We have direct flights there. But could you look at where everyone's coming from and then help us identify where there isn't a flight?"
And the answer was Philadelphia. And, we were really gratified to see that American Airlines will be flying from Philadelphia to Nantucket on a weekly basis in season. And Noah Karberg from the airport, who's been a big supporter and collaborator with us, was nice enough to give us the tip of the hat for doing that work.
Eident And we've talked before, Alan, your work has now spanned off-island, and as you mentioned, across the country. What kinds of questions are you trying to answer right now?
Worden Well, I think the interesting issue, that's less of an issue for Nantucket, is the bigger drivers of economic development. And if we want to improve the middle class and the lower middle class, it's all about employment. And so, we're developing some methodologies for larger places around what are the drivers of economic development, which existing companies are predicted to grow the most and therefore deserve the most support, and to really look at it workforce to understand is your existing workforce meeting the needs of today's employers? We're looking at places like Hartford, Santa Fe, Sarasota and Charleston, South Carolina. So, we're we're pretty busy.
Eident And that's Alan Worden, founder of the Nantucket Data Platform, talking with us once again. Alan, thank you so much.
Worden Thanks so much.
This conversation was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.