Should we all just pack up and move to Columbus?

The District is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. That could be why Columbus is trying to woo D.C. residents.

The city of 800,000 in central Ohio, anchored by Ohio State University, has placed ads in Metro tunnels recently. Many of them seem to target millennials. One ad, below, specifically points out Columbus’s affordability.

columbus ad

So how much cheaper is Columbus than D.C.? Let’s take a look at the numbers.


Living in Columbus isn’t going to save a typical millennial as much as you might expect. Housing is much cheaper in Columbus but millennials in D.C. tend to make a lot more money. The result is that in both places a typical millennial renting a one-bedroom apartment  would have about $30,000 left over for other expenses (before taxes).  In Columbus this would go further, but not much – we estimate it’d be like having around $36,000 to spend in D.C. But this difference might be negligible since many D.C. millennials reduce their costs by having roommates and not owning cars.

The equation changes for D.C. millennials making below the median income. They might be able to save more by moving to Columbus if they could get a job there without a drastic pay decrease. Some of the ads seem to target young creatives, some of whom might fall into this group.

Plenty of millennials are betting on career trajectories that will make them enough money to keep D.C. affordable to them. If they want to buy a house or have children, though, costs will go up even more relative to those in Columbus. The median cost of a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in D.C. is $788,000. In Columbus it’s $222,000. Child-care for two children in D.C. is 75 percent more expensive than in Columbus. D.C. millennials might not be considering a move to Columbus now, but in several years they might re-think the numbers.

What exactly is this data? “Millennial” means people between the ages of 18 and 34. We got the median millennial earnings from the Census Bureau and the rent data from To compare non-housing expenses in D.C. and Columbus, we used the family budget calculator from the Economic Policy Institute. We subtracted childcare costs from the family budgets to get a more realistic budget for millennials living in cities. Data on median home prices is from NerdWallet. Child care costs are from the Economic Policy Institute.

19 thoughts on “Should we all just pack up and move to Columbus?

  1. This assessment is very one-sided. Can people live in Columbus without a car? It’s housing, income AND transportation that reflect the true cost-of-living ratios.


    1. I do. I live in a neighborhood adjacent to downtown and work downtown. I can walk, bike, or take bike share, bus, and car share if I need to. Companies are becoming more progressive too and reimbursing bus and bike share passes.


  2. I’m actually visiting Columbus this weekend with my wife and infant son. We are both from the Midwest and I lived there while working on a political campaign. We think we may want to move there at some point. They have a lot of historic homes for reasonable prices in nice walkable neighborhoods. You can get a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,500 – 2,000 sf Victorian in pristine condition in the high $200k – low $300k range in German Village, the Short North, or Clintonville. These are established neighborhoods with good walk scores. More houses also have a garage on the alley and a generous back yard. It’s perfect for families that want to go car-light.

    We may or may not end up moving there but there are clearly some positives. I would be interested in seeing the income data for millennials with college degrees in both cities. I think that would be more relevant because that’s who has built DC and that’s who Columbus wants.


  3. Also, you bring up child care costs, but then fail to mention that DC has FREE, all-day preschool (with actual teachers!) starting at age 3. That’s childcare cost savings right there. C’mon DC government, toot your own horn on the programs that make DC quality of life better!


  4. I’ll second the comment about this analysis leaving out transportation. If you use CNT’s H+T index, Columbus actually does worse than DC. Compare the following two fact sheets:



    Notice that in Columbus, you’d have about 10% less disposable income. Housing costs take up 24% of income in both cities, but Columbus has higher transportation costs (because you need to own a car).


  5. Having lived in both DC and Columbus, I have the following to offer:

    Regarding transportation –

    According to the data from H+T, there are 1.2 cars per household in DC and 1.6 cars per household in Columbus, which means that most people own a car in both cities. Based on my experience in DC, talking to my peers and co-workers, most of them did own cars. This means, just like in Columbus, people in DC will have to pay for car insurance and their car payment. That means that the only real difference in transportation cost is that of gas.

    Looking back over my spending in Columbus, I typically spend less than $60 a month on gas, so I really don’t think the difference between what I was spending on gas in DC and what I’m spending on gas here in Columbus is causing a major difference in cost of living. In addition, I’ll note that my car insurance was more expensive in DC than in Columbus and that I had the additional transportation cost of the Metro (which I took pretty often) when living in DC.

    Regarding housing –

    There is a total lack of logic in the numbers that are being presented regarding rents in this article. The author writes that rents are cheaper in Columbus but since everybody in DC has roommates to split the costs, their DC rents end up actually being less. Here’s a secret: roommates exist in Columbus, Ohio as well, so if you want roommates to drive down your housing expense, then you can find them here too. So, instead of splitting a $2,000/month rent with 3 other people in DC ($500 per person), you can split a $1,200/month rent with 3 other people in Columbus ($300 per person).

    The article also mentioned that people below the median income and those starting families and buying houses would most likely be better off economically here in Columbus. So, even the article defending DC admits that, unless you are a well-off, single, 25 year-old with roommates, you’ll probably be financially better off in central Ohio.

    Regarding pay –

    This marketing campaign is designed to draw Millennials from DC to Columbus. Almost no one moves to one city from another to take a big pay cut. So, while it might be true that the median income here in Columbus is lower, we are not saying DC folks should leave their $60,000/year job for a $30,000/year job in Columbus. Columbus is simply saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you check us out and see if there is a good fit here for you.’ For example, I left DC for Columbus for a higher paying job.

    Regarding DC –

    I am not trying to bash DC–I enjoyed my time living there. Simply put, when it came down to all of the factors that make up quality of life, I chose Columbus. Columbus is a very progressive city with a vibrant arts and music scene. It’s affordable, convenient, and has tons of character and things to do. There is also a great sense of community here and lots of young people. As a fan of both cities, I only ask that folks from DC that have never experienced Columbus do so before judging it.


    1. I totally agree with ALC. The roommates argument is ridiculous. DC has a lot going for it but unless you have to live here for a job in politics there are probably other cities that are better for you. The housing shortage, poor schools and high crime are serious problems.

      Also, think about who this ad is targeting and how city leaders have been treating them. They are going after mostly white college-educated millennials. DC politicians can’t decide whether they grudgingly accept them or see as the problem. You hear the race baiting every campaign season. Columbus on the other hand is recruiting them. Why wouldn’t people want to go somewhere they are welcome?


  6. I don’t think I’ve ever responded to an article online but feel compelled to do so here. I recently left Columbus (I lived there for seven years), and moved to a major East Coast city. I hated Columbus and don’t consider anything about that area progressive. I’m thrilled to be on the East Coast now and took a huge pay cut to wind up in a much more expensive area. I’m sure I’ll work back up to what I was earning, but I would warn anyone looking to leave the coasts for the Midwest to do so with eyes wide open. Columbus is far from progressive and has a laughable arts/music scene, IMHO, and has horrible public transportation (only busses). It’s cheap, for sure, but in my experience there’s a reason people people more to live on the coasts.


    1. Joseph, I’m guessing you’re just trolling but I’m going to address your comment anyway.

      I’m inclined to believe that, if you did live in C-Bus for 7 years, then you apparently never left your house (hint: it’s on you to explore the city you live in to discover its offerings).

      I could go into a more exhaustive list of all the art and music that Columbus has to offer than the one below but I’m lazy and don’t feel like listing it all out for someone who won’t even appreciate it. I will provide you with the following links and information that you can read at your own leisure:

      Art in Columbus:

      Note: this is only the latest arts community to pop-up in Columbus–we’ve had the galleries in the Short North for years now. You can find galleries all through Columbus, downtown, Clintonville, Grandview, etc. Columbus also has a ton of festivals/markets that feature local artists (and musicians) throughout the year. In addition, we have the CMA, the Wex, the Pizzuti Collection, and lots of local colleges that do art shows all the time (including an art school). So, it looks like we have a pretty vibrant art scene as even newspapers from outside of our state are talking about it and listing it as an example for other cities to follow (refer to the link above).

      Music in Columbus:
      You can see live music of all kinds any day in Columbus. We have tons of great venues ranging from larger ones like the LC Pavilion and the Newport to small hole-in-the-wall bars like Dick’s Den, Ace of Cups, and Spacebar (by the way, that’s just 3 of the many live music bars that are within a 15 minute walk of where I live). We also have a symphony, an opera, a ballet, and many community choirs and bands. Admittedly, our opera, symphony, and ballet are not the best in the country but they are respected and put on excellent, professional shows (and they are affordable to go see to boot). And if you do want to see one of the best symphonies in the ENTIRE world, just make the short drive up to Cleveland. The Cleveland Symphony is consistently ranked better than EVERY East Coast symphony.

      I also challenge you to find a better indie rock radio station than CD 102.5–it was was voted the 4th best alternative rock station in the country and the BEST east of the Mississippi (that includes the East Coast if you weren’t aware of that).

      Personally, one of the things I didn’t like about DC was that it didn’t have a lot of good record stores to buy vinyl (there were a couple in Baltimore but they weren’t too convenient to get to if you lived in DC). In Columbus, there are tons of great record stores.

      Columbus as a Progressive City:
      Just like in every city, not everyone that lives in Columbus is progressive but I’m inclined to believe that, if you think that this city is backwards, you were mostly hanging out with our fairly small population of a**holes. Most of these a**holes also don’t actually live in the city, they live in the surrounding areas and come into the city sometimes.

      Obviously, it’s hard to quantify how progressive a city is but here is a link with quite a few recent accolades Columbus has been given that demonstrate it isn’t the backwards, hick town you seem to be painting it as:

      Columbus is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country, one of the best for African-Americans economically, one of the best for working women, one of the best cities for singles, voted one of the 7 most intelligent communities in the world, has the highest metropolitan concentration of Fortune 1000 companies in the USA, one of the best cities for new college grads, was #1 on forbes opportunity cities list, has been recognized as having one of the best public library systems in the country, one of the 6 great small cities for food lovers, etc., etc.

      Transportation in Columbus:
      You have a fair point about transportation–we don’t have the best public transit system here. However, we also don’t usually have gridlocked traffic and long waits in traffic jams, so you can typically get to anywhere you want to go in the city in 20-30 minutes. Additionally, Columbus has been taking steps to make public transportation better–we’ve implemented a widespread bike sharing program (one that was embraced and not freaked out about like the one in NYC), the C-Bus Circulator that loops throughout the downtown hot spots and is faster and more convenient than the normal bus system, and a car share program so you don’t have to own a car here but can get one if you need it quickly and easily.

      By all means, enjoy the East Coast but don’t denigrate Columbus because you didn’t bother to experience it while you were here.


    2. Columbus is very progressive as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of the most gay friendly cities in the country. The arts scene may not be on par with those of larger cities, but there is a lot of cool stuff happening here, you just have to look for it.

      I agree the music scene isn’t all that great but only because I don’t like the music they’re doing, but there is a lot of creativity happening here. It’s a growing city which is only getting better, now is the time to get an amazing property while its affordable.

      Public transportation needs to improve. The bus system is abyssmal and only people that can’t afford cars ride it. If Columbus is to truly grow, this needs resolved.


  7. I am also considering moving there and I am so glad to find this information! Thanks for the post! Before moving there are so many things that I have to read about! 🙂


  8. A really important factor that’s been missing from all this analysis so far is that the Columbus Jazz & Rib Fest absolutely blows away the National Capital BBQ Battle.


  9. Im a Black male with Dominican decent. I moved to Columbus last year. I was liVing on the west side hilltop area. I enjoyed everything about columbus weather, affordable housing, WOMEN, FOOD, OSU football games, Endless Jobs! nightlife. I was renting a two bedroom townhouse for $600/month paying 50$ in utilities. I bought my first car off of a dealership lot Bobby Chevrolet, 2009 Cts4 Cadillac all performance, ate at some if the most delicious and fun restaurants for about 10$ a meal. Met some of the prettiest smartest girls, shopped at big shopping malls. I worked for Time Warner Cable making 11.10$! I do not have a degree either just a couple years if working experience. Columbus also have plenty of entry-level jobs for big companies! That’s just some of the things I experienced in my 3 months there! I had to come back to dc because of family sickness but I’m getting ready to go back in December!


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