Downtown St. Joseph (copy)

Missouri ranked No. 14 in the U.S. in terms of needing a stimulus check the most for living expenses.

As inflation rages, rising costs are starting to eat into St. Joseph’s reputation as a city with a historically low cost of living.

According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri has the seventh-lowest cost of living in the country. However, that doesn’t mean prices aren’t on the rise here. Costs of transportation, food and housing had the greatest increase in 2021. The overall rise in the cost of living in St. Joseph is 1.7%.

Kylee Strough, president of the United Way of Greater St. Joseph, said the rise will have an impact on residents who need financial assistance.

“I think anytime the cost of living goes up, there’s going to be a ripple effect. For some, it might just push them off the brink — they were stable and now they can’t be,” Strough said. “Their paychecks and their income was stretching as far as it could, and there’s just no wiggle room as prices increase.”

The United Way of Greater St. Joseph helps people search for jobs and receive government financial assistance, among many other missions. As the cost of living rises and the pandemic continues, the job of the agency has become more difficult and resources have been stretched thin regarding the ability to provide the amount of help it typically would.

“It can have some downsides, but I think that that’s where we have to say to ourselves, and to all those we work with, ‘We can’t change that’. How can we make the best of what is going on right now? How can we stretch limited resources as far as possible and do the very best we can with what we have?” Strough said.

Kara Grant, an assistant professor of economics at Missouri Western State University, explained the rising costs.

“I think part of it is we have a lot of inflation right now. So that’s going to play a role in the cost of living in terms of groceries and other things like that, and gas prices,” she said. “So I think a lot of times it’s just, one, inflation, two, housing prices, in general, have been rising across the country, mostly because of a lack of inventory and other things like that. So I think all those things are kind of contributing to that kind of increase overall.”

Strough and Grant both believe the 1.7% rise in living costs will have the biggest effect on low-income families.

“I think for low-income families, it’s going to be felt a lot more. If you already have a pretty low income, 1.7% might feel really like a lot,” Grant said.

According to Data USA, 15.2% of the population in St. Joseph lives below the poverty line. This is higher than the national average of 12.3%.

The population of St. Joseph has been on the decline since 2010, but Grant does not believe that is specifically related to the cost of living. There has been a steady move from rural areas to more urban settings over the past couple of decades.

“I think steadily in the last 20 years it’s been pretty, pretty consistently ... you can see a trend across the country of people gravitating towards the coasts, which they do anyway,” Grant said. “But I think with kind of aging populations, we tend to see more people who are younger tend to go out towards the coasts or big cities.”

St. Joseph has a low cost of living in comparison to the larger cities in the area. For example, both Overland Park, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, have higher cost-of-living indexes.

Although the cost of living rise is hitting low-income residents harder than others, one St. Joseph business owner said she still is feeling the effects. Chris Coffman, owner of Nesting Goods and Alchemy Tea Co. in Downtown St. Joseph, spoke about her experience.

“There has definitely been a change in cost of living. Honestly, I would say that right this minute the biggest cost of living change that we’re seeing as a small business is utilities. Utilities are like doubling and tripling like just monthly almost, which is really, really rough. And I know that that’s not just a small business problem. That is an everyone problem,” Coffman said.

The price of goods and services in St. Joseph is about 7% higher than the Missouri average. According to Grant, higher prices for goods and services, health care, utilities and other higher-than-average costs in St. Joseph could be due to the lack of competition.

“There may not be a lot of alternatives. So they might be able to kind of raise the prices because they don’t have any other competitors,” she said.

One contributing factor to inflation is the pandemic. We’ve had to adjust to life with the pandemic, so now we have to adjust to life with the effects it has caused.

“COVID is still with us. I think we’ve all accepted that it will always be from this point forward, and we have to learn how to just live with it,” Strough said.

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