International travelers and expatriates have long known that currency exchange rates are not reliable indicators of purchasing power. For example, a traveler to France or Germany will notice that the dollar equivalent in Euros cannot buy as much as at home. Conversely, the traveler to China will note that the dollar equivalent in Yuan will buy more.
Economists have attempted to solve this problem by developing "purchasing power parities," which are used to estimate currency conversion rates that equalize values based upon prices (Note 1). This helps establish the real value of money in a particular place.
The cost of living adjusted income data includes surprises. New York, commonly considered a particularly affluent metropolitan area, ranked 17th in cost-of-living adjusted income, and below such seemingly unlikely metropolitan areas as Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cleveland, St. Louis and Milwaukee. These metropolitan areas also ranked above San Jose, which ranked first in unadjusted income in 2000, but now ranks 16th in cost of living adjusted income (Table 2).