Understanding the Data

What does the Cost of Living Comparison data include?

Every ChurchSalary report unpacks cost of living data in a dedicated section using two metrics: the cost of living index and median household income.

Cost of Living Index

The cost of living index (COLI) is a measure of how much 60 different goods and services cost. It is a relative measurement of expenses, not an income calculation. The Council for Community and Economic Research uses 300 independent researchers to produce an index of how much it costs to live in a given zip code. These costs are indexed and compared relative to the national average.

COLI captures the six main expenses (and weighs them) to produce a single cost metric.


Larger expenses, such as housing and utilities, that are necessary impact a family’s standard of living more than the cost of groceries. Everyone can afford milk in your zip code but not everyone can afford to own a home or access high speed internet. Bear this in mind, as you analyze the cost of living index for your zip code.

Median Household Income

The Median Household Income (MHI) measurement for your zip code is based on the most recent data available from the US Census Bureau.


Bear in mind that this number is not an average. It is showing you the household income which is both lower and higher than half of households in your community. MHI on its own cannot tell you how incomes in your zip code are distributed between different professions, education levels, and among socioeconomic classes.

Because zip codes are based on mailing routes it is not uncommon for incomes to span a wide range. An affluent neighborhood can shift this number up or a low-income neighborhood can pull it down.

Finally, bear in mind that this is capturing household incomes not per capita (individual) incomes. Thus, if you live in a community with a lot of single-income households this number may be lower. By contrast, communities with a lot of dual-income, married households may have a higher MHI.

To find more resources and data points on cost of living, please visit our in-depth resource: How to Adjust Salaries Based on Location.

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