At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • The sample cannot be tracked over time.
  • Provides pricing data in several categories, including specific food items (e.g., meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables) by metropolitan area.
  • Data collected forms the basis of the Cost of Living Index, which provides a reasonably accurate measure of living cost differences between urban areas.
  • The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER, the survey sponsor) stringently reviews all prices reported, and attempts to eliminate errors and noncompliance with pricing specifications.
  • The sample is not representative of the United States (metropolitan statistical areas ask to participate) and is skewed toward higher-income households and higher-priced products typically purchased by those households.



To collect price data on items in six different categories (groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services) from metropolitan areas in the United States (U.S.).

Target Population

Metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the U.S. A city in a non-metropolitan county may participate if the county population exceeds 50,000 and if the population of the city to be priced exceeds 35,000.


Began in 1968. Conducted quarterly. The publication currently available is the Quarter 3, 2019 Index. 2019 Annual will be published January 31, 2020. Q1 2019 will be published May 31, 2019; Q2 2019 will be published August 31, 2019; and Q3 2019 will be published October 31, 2019.


The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER)

Special Note(s)

Jennie Allison
Project Manager
703-522-4980 x. 1021
Jacob Stenstrom
Research Assistant
703-522-4980 x. 1028


Sample Design

Cross-sectional survey.

Metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) ask to participate, so sample is not necessarily representative. Chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and universities in participating MSAs select a minimum sample of businesses in each pricing category. These are businesses used by higher-income households of professionals and executives. Beginning in 2009, this project began publishing data on other income quintile categories, household types, and demographic groups, such as Construction Workers and Mechanics, Self-Employed Workers, and Retirees.

Sample Size

Approximately 300 metropolitan areas in participating U.S. cities every quarter.

Special Note(s)

Items are selected representing consumer expenditures categories (e.g., groceries). Specific items used in the Index are surrogates for entire categories of consumer spending. For this approach to work, price differences among urban areas for the items in the Index must accurately reflect differences for the categories they represent. Learn more.

Selection of samples for all items in the Index is guided by what are typically used by professional and managerial households in the top income quintile. For example, only grocery and apparel stores where individuals from professional and managerial households would normally shop are examined. Even if discount stores are a majority of the overall market, they will not be in the sample unless upper-income professionals and executives actually shop there.

The sample is not representative of the U.S. and is skewed toward higher-income households and higher-priced products typically purchased by those households. The sample cannot be tracked over time. All price data are obtained from sources deemed reliable, but no representation is made as to the complete accuracy thereof. They are published subject to errors, omissions, changes, and withdrawals without notice.

Beginning in February 2008, the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) began publishing an annual average survey compiled from data submitted in those previous quarters. For urban areas where C2ER has data for fewer than three pricing periods, it calculates missing price data in order to have a complete set of observations.

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
Median household incomeBased on U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey
Median household income adjusted for cost of livingCalculated variable based on ACS median household income and cost of living index derived from data on more than 50,000 prices covering 60 different items collected quarterly from local chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, or university applied economic centers.


NameMethods of Assessment
Metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), city code, state, metro/micro area, and urban areaN/A


NameMethods of Assessment
Average home pricesMethods for compiling these data vary by location
Average monthly rentInquiries to local property owners
Average nominal price of foodIn-store review and recording prices
Average nominal prices of selected food items (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables, ground beef, milk, soda, pizza, beer)In-store review and recording of prices

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

Data are available for purchase.


Fee-based. City comparisons can be made online for $7.95. The most recent ACCRA COLI can be purchased online in PDF, print, or Excel formats. Prices for the PDF format range from $82.50 to $165 for a single issue or yearly subscription, respectively. Back issues are available in Excel format beginning at $275 for each annual index from 1991 through present. Historical datasets that include data from 1990 to present range from $1500 to $2500 (discount for academics/researchers).

Special Note(s)

Many university libraries have this data. Researchers affiliated with a university should check their institution’s library first as the data may be available to them free of charge.


Geocode Variable(s)

Metropolitan statistical areas, city code, state, metro/micro area, and urban area.

Existing Linkages

None noted.

Selected Publications


Chou SY, Grossman M, Saffer H. An economic analysis of adult obesity: Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Journal of Health Economics 2004;23(3):565-587.

Powell LM, Bao Y. Food prices, access to food outlets and child weight. Economics and Human Biology 2009;7(1):64-72.

Powell LM. Fast food costs and adolescent Body Mass Index: Evidence from panel data. Journal of Health Economics 2009;29(5):963-970.

Sturm R, Datar A. Body mass index in elementary school children, metropolitan area food price and food outlet density. Public Health 2005;119(12):1059-1068.



Cost of Living Index Manual
Cost of Living Helpful Hints