My parents raised me in a rural town called New Freedom, PA. It was a nice and peaceful rural small town. Just to illustrate how rural it is I had to pass 5 farms to go to school from my home. One of my old school acquaintances called these the “urban streets” of our town in our school paper. I could say hello to 30 cows on these “urban streets” of my old town.
You cannot get much smaller than this for a town. Heck, my father said village is a more accurate description. However, many people have been pushing my generation to increase the populations of towns like these by moving to them. Before my generation there was something commonly called a brain drain where talented individuals have received some education in these small towns and moved to cities to work. Kind of like I did.
However, sometimes I wonder if I should leave the city of Philadelphia and move back into a small town. Not New Freedom, but some place similar yet close to work. In this post I will explain the pros and cons of leaving a city.
It is generally accepted that houses in towns and small cities are less expensive, but the key word is generally. Rent and housing can be very similar in price in cities and towns. For instance, the median price for a house in New Freedom, PA is $133/square foot. New Freedom used to be a place in the middle of no where, now it is a commuter town for Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC. The median house in Baltimore is $134/square foot. The median house in Washington, DC is $552/square foot. In other words, small towns like New Freedom can have housing just as expensive as cities.
However, let’s say you go for a true small town that is more in the middle of no where like Johnstown, PA. The median price of a house is $24,950. The price per square foot in this town could easily be in the lower tens or even single digits. As much as we believe that housing is extremely expensive there are many places where housing is easily affordable. So truth is it depends.
As hard as it is to believe there are many high quality jobs in small town USA if you have an in-demand major. If the only reason you are living in a city is because “that’s where the jobs are” you might as well leave the city now. I have applied to seven places within twenty miles of New Freedom, PA, some of which are sites for massive companies. My employer is actually a global company headquartered about an hour from my hometown.
I told my parents I was not too worried about finding a job because “I cannot throw a stone without hitting a potential employer.” And I studied biochemistry, there are some more in-demand fields. I imagine that if you have a degree in engineering, computer science, or if you are a fellow biochemist you should not have a hard time finding a job in or near a small town.
These jobs tend to be more stable as there are fewer applicants.
Disadvantages Of Less Competition
However, those job markets are less competitive meaning fewer people will apply. Those companies know fewer people will apply and they will lower compensation for employment. I once saw a posting for a biochemistry job in Johnstown, PA for $12/hour. That would be about $25,000 a year. I only know of three other places in Johnstown, PA you could work as a biochemist. You will have less room for negotiations if you want to work in Johnstown, PA as a biochemist. This is not much different in my old hometown either.
Should you leave the city to find work, you may have to lower the standards for your compensation. And there are even more potential blows you may take in the future. Let’s say your employer goes out of business or lets you go. You have few options around you. You will have to find a job elsewhere. However, if your previous employer did not compensate you well, you may not have the funds to afford moving to a more expensive location such as a city. Even with lower housing costs in a town, you will not have as much to spare in cash if you need to find new options.
Analyze The Town
There are advantages and disadvantages to a less competitive market. Frankly, the advantages and disadvantages will depend on the town. If it is a college town for instance you may have more competition from university students who may be willing to do the same work as you.
If you have been in a city there may be any where from bad to good public transportation. In Pittsburgh, PA the public transportation could be half-decent. By half-decent I mean that it would just about triple your travel time by car. In Philadelphia we actually have good public transportation but it still more than doubles the travel time by car. If you want a world with public transport that takes as long as travel by car I would suggest writing fiction. Even public transport by trains will require multiple stops and branching public transportation lines. Each stop takes time so even with Amtrak trains capable of traveling over 200 kilometers/hour it will take time to transfer commuters and while transfers can be fairly smooth it is still not quite clockwork. And you probably know there are policies that will keep trains from traveling that fast in some areas.
Even then public transport is a great alternative to owning a car depending on your needs and where you live. However, if you leave the city, at least in the US, you capability to use public transport takes a nosedive. Even in suburbs just 15 minutes outside the metro center of Philadelphia public transportation access is at best questionable. If you move to the country there may be no option at all or options that are restricted or it is just as or even more expensive than driving. So a car is needed.
I am fine with a 15+ year car in Philadelphia because no one is going to steal it and because worst case scenario I could always take public transportation. Ride sharing is never out of question either.
That is not the same case in a rural town. If you have car troubles, your best back up is a rather more expensive ride share and you may still arrive late to work.
If you want to leave the city and live in the country you better have at least two cars. One of them should be reliable.
Insurance is all about risk, not fault. Insurers almost never care about how safe of a driver you are, you are only one factor on the road. If you are in an area with more drivers and cars there will be less room for error, and on the road that is literal. More accidents happen in car dense areas. There are many other factors including chances for crime and litigation.
If you live in the city, you will have higher insurance rates than in the country. For instance, when my wife had our car in a small town outside Pittsburgh insurance was only a few hundred each year, in Philadelphia it is more like a thousand. She and I have never been in an accident either. The insurance every 6 months costs more than our car in the city. In a rural area insurance every year would cost less than the car. Expect to spend at least twice as much to protect your car in the city. That alone nearly makes me want to leave the city.
Food & Groceries
It is a common belief that pretty much everything is more expensive in the city. That may be true for items like insurance and mostly housing, but a study shows the opposite for food and groceries. The study reveals that cities have generally more access to these items and more competition from multiple stores. Granted this is not true in every neighborhood I actually do have a hard time driving in Philadelphia without seeing a grocery store of some type every few blocks. The study says that generally food and groceries are less expensive in cities depending on population (albeit only by a single percent).
This did not surprise me though. One of the surest ways to tell you are an adult is if you ever have a conversation about grocery prices. When I bring up grocery prices to my family they are surprised about the costs (or lack there of for some groceries including dairy, potatoes, and bread. Apparently, some of the common prices I find for yogurts in Philadelphia are the special sales in New Freedom or even Pittsburgh, PA.
This completely depends. Believe it or not some small towns have higher taxes than cities. Governments have to collect taxes for paving roads and for schools. The quality of these and other services provided depend on the zip code. Different taxes are applied uniquely in cities. For instance, Philadelphia has the highest earned-wage tax in the US. However, it is not that different from many places that are considered smaller cities or even towns, in fact the gap between the two is smaller than ever.
If you want to start a business the real estate slogan: location, location, location may be ringing in your head. This is very true, which means the best location is entirely dependent on your type of business.
One piece of advice I have received is that if your business is a service that is either required or common across many demographics in may be better to have in a more densely populated area. That is not the case for many situations. You may think of an auto garage as a service that is broadly required across many demographics, not in a city. Many people in a city have no car simply because they do not need one. So an auto garage may not do as well in a city versus a small town.
General statements when it comes to business are pretty useless. However, if your business serves a niche market your clients may be more willing to travel far so you can place it where real estate is less expensive.
Should you leave the city? Living in a city versus a small town each has its advantages and disadvantages. But the advantages and disadvantages depend almost entirely on the zip code. And each of these can change with the politician’s snap of a finger, or even the activities of a few less politically powered individuals.
The best place you can live is almost entirely dependent on yourself. Remember general statements are generally useless when it comes to lifestyles.