Each political season there are three major topics of discussion about El Paso. The first is that property taxes are one of the highest in the country. The second is that government entities tack on fees as hidden taxes, like the storm water fees. The last topic is that El Paso is a low wage town. To settle these debates, El Paso News embarked on an exhaustive research project where we compared El Paso to eight other similar cities, taking into account the population, the geographic location of the city, the political party in charge and what it costs for a family to live in that city. We then ranked our cities against El Paso in terms of housing costs – including the tax burden – and the cost to own a vehicle as well as the costs to shop at the local Walmart. We believe that our methodology fairly ranks El Paso on what it costs to live in the city against the eight other cities we included in our ranking.
Because of the complexity of the differences involved and the need to explain how we arrived at our conclusions – this article is comprehensive. For the readers interested in only what we found, we will show our findings before we explain our processes, our sources and how we arrived at our figures. Those interested in reading our process and our findings can start reading at Our Methodology below for the complete analysis. We have also made this article into a downloadable and printable version. You can find the link at the end of the article.
How Does El Paso Rank In Cost of Living?
One of the underlining political narratives in the upcoming city council elections are the property taxes in El Paso. Much of the narrative lies on how high El Paso’s property taxes are while others argue that El Paso is an affordable city to live in. There are many factors that contribute to the cost of living of a community – from location, access to jobs and the taxes levied on the residents being among of them. El Paso is one of less than ten cities on the U.S-México border with sister cities which makes El Paso different from most other American cities. In addition, El Paso’s proximity to Cd. Juárez and the size of El Paso’s sister city creates an additional economic influence for the city.
To understand El Paso’s affordability compared to other similar cities, El Paso News compared several metrics to rank El Paso’s cost of living. We analyzed taxes, the cost of consumables and housing among others to understand what it costs to live in El Paso for a typical American family. To allow us to understand the true cost, we identified cities comparable to El Paso in size, income levels, educational attainment to try to find comparable cities to compare El Paso against. Unfortunately, El Paso’s proximity to México makes the comparison difficult in that the Mexican economy impacts El Paso unlike most other cities comparable to El Paso. Nonetheless we developed a list of cities that we believe fairly compare to El Paso and then ranked them against El Paso in terms of how expensive they are to live in.
Taking housing costs, transportation costs, utility services, a sample grocery list and the associated taxes and insurance we ranked El Paso against the eight cities we selected because of their population, their proximity to the border, average income and average credit scores to determine what percent of the average income of two working parents with one child family it takes to live in our sample cities. We also considered the dominant political party to address the question if a political party makes a difference.
The same family in Albuquerque is priced out of the city. However, as suspected by many residents, El Paso’s city manager, Tommy Gonzalez is paid almost twice as much as his counterpart in Oklahoma City, who manages a city budget twice as large as El Paso’s, does on rely on non-voter approved debt to fund city operations and oversees a city whose GDP is twice as large as El Paso’s but has a population half the size. The cost of the public debt in El Paso translates to a burden on each El Pasoan of $2,072 annually, which is more than the burden on the taxpayer in Laredo who pays $1,144 and Oklahoma City’s taxpayer who pays $1,498 to meet the city’s public debt.
El Paso has issued about $2 billion in public debt, compared to Laredo that has issued about $337 million in public debt and Oklahoma City that has issued $1.03 billion in public debt – all of it voter approved.
How we arrived at our comparable cities was an analysis that considered several metrics, including but not limited to population, government-imposed fees and taxes and demographics, and other factors like the mix of government jobs to civilian workers. We also addressed whether we could correlate the party-affiliation of the city’s leadership to the associated costs to live in the community.
To build our list of comparable cities we started with the population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, El Paso’s population in 2021 was estimated to be 678,415.  El Paso’s population makes it one of the largest cities in the United States, ranking in 20th place behind Denver and ahead of Detroit.  We should note that for our comparison we are focused on the cost of living in the city and not the county. Based on El Paso’s population we identified Denver, Oklahoma City, Nashville, Washington D.C., Boston, Las Vegas, Portland and Detroit as cities comparable to El Paso by population. However, none of the cities are on the border so we were forced to expand our list. The populations of Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen is too small. However, we need at least one city in Texas on the border to compare with, so we added Laredo as our first comparable city. Laredo’s population is about 256,153. 
We also added Denver and Detroit to our list of cities to compare to El Paso because of their population sizes. Denver’s population is about 711,463.  Detroit’s population is about 632,464.  The other cities on the US-México border, Yuma, Arizona and San Diego, California are either too small – Yuma or too large – San Diego. With a population of over one million,  San Diego is much larger than El Paso but with Cd. Juárez added to the mix, San Diego is good for our comparison. The combined population of San Diego and Tijuana is over 5 million making it the largest community on the border. El Paso and Cd. Juárez are the second largest population on the border with a combined population of almost 3 million people. Because of this we added San Diego to our list.
Albuquerque and Tucson are often compared to El Paso, so we added them to our list. Tucson’s population is about 543,242  and Albuquerque’s population is about 562,599 .
Before we start analyzing the cities we’ve compiled, it is important to address the political polarization of the country. The United States is divided along the tribalism of Democrats versus Republicans and often religious views. It should be noted that a 2020 paper by the Kellogg School of Management At Northwestern University argues that the divide is not simply tribalism but much worse, “political sectarianism,” along the lines of the “near-schismatic divides that historically separated religious sects such as Sunni from Shia or Protestant from Catholic.”  However, for the purposes of our analysis we will focus on the party divide between the Democrats and the Republicans. El Paso, like the other cities on our list lean heavily towards the Democrats. Interestingly Tucson is politically close to El Paso. Tucson leans towards the Democrats in a decidedly Republican state. One in eleven Arizonians are military veterans and although Tucson is not on the border it is close to it.  Nonetheless one of the talking points about how expensive El Paso is, is based on the narrative that the Democrats control the city. Fort Worth and Oklahoma are the two cities closest to El Paso in terms of population with a Republican mayor. Both also have a council-manager form of government, like El Paso. Fort Worth’s population is about 935,508  and Oklahoma’s population is about 687,725.  Both round out the eight cities we will be using to compare El Paso to.
Our City List
- Albuquerque, New Mexico (D)
- Denver, Colorado (D)
- Detroit, Michigan (D)
- El Paso, Texas (D)
- Fort Worth, Texas (R)
- Laredo, Texas (D)
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (R)
- San Diego, California (D)
- Tucson, Arizona (D)
For our comparison, we are going to focus on the cost to live in each of the cities instead of how economically prosperous each city is. To make the comparison fair we need to standardize the metrics we will use. The obvious one is property taxes, but to make the comparison more meaningful we need to look at other living expenses like housing, food, gasoline and the taxes.
To start our comparison, we first determined that the average median age of our city sample varies from a low of 28.9 in Laredo to a high of 37.1 in Albuquerque. This compares to El Paso’s 33 years as the median age for El Pasoans. We compiled our data from the census bureau. Since 2000, according to the bureau, the average family household is comprised of about 3 individuals, so we will use a family of three, two parents and a child for our sampling of the costs to live in each city.
Two-income families “is the norm,” says The Washington Post, but that may be shifting towards a one-earner family because of changes in the workforce caused by the pandemic.  For our purposes we will assume our family sample has two wage earners. We will also assume our sample family has one car that is new.
Our starting point is two parents who purchased a home, have a new car and who both work with one child in their family. Americans spend on average of 30% of their income on housing and about 15% on transportation plus about ten percent on food. As readers will soon learn, this is not a realistic assessment of the average family. We will not include healthcare to our analysis. Another typical family expense is on entertainment, which we have excluded. We assumed that the child attends a public school for our analysis. Therefore, we have excluded education as a cost factor.
The average American spends $5,111 a month in expenses. Of that amount, 34.9% goes towards housing expenses and about 16% goes towards transportation costs.  There is also the 50/30/20 budget rule that encourages consumers to spend 50% of their take home pay on necessities, 30% on wants and to put 20% into savings. For most Americans that is not a realistic rule as many cannot afford to save money after meeting expenses. Mortgage companies expect home buyers to spend 28% of their income on their mortgage, which includes the property taxes. Applying these metrics to the average American in select cities, including El Paso, we find that meeting those percentages is not possible.
Average Household Income
The median family household income in America was $86,372 in 2020, according to the census. El Paso’s family income was $48,866 during the same period. Only Detroit, at $32,498 and Tucson at $45,227 ranked below El Paso’s household median income.
Therefore, ranking our cities according to household income, we find El Paso towards the bottom of our list.
- San Diego – household income: $83,454
- Denver – household income: $72,661
- Fort Worth – household income: $64,567
- Oklahoma City – household income: $56,456
- Albuquerque – household income: $53,936
- Laredo – household income: $51,120
- El Paso – household income: $48,866
- Tucson – household income: $45,227
- Detroit – household income: $32,498
But the average income is not the whole story because we need to understand the cost of consumables that all families need to survive on. However, before we can understand the costs, we need to figure the take home pay for each family after taxes. There are two payroll taxes, federal in all communities and state income taxes in some.
We used the Forbes Advisor online calculator to determine the amount of taxes paid by our sample family in 2021 for each of our communities. In all cases we entered one dependent. We then ranked our cities based on their take home pay. As can be observed, even with the New Mexico income tax, El Paso remains below Albuquerque in take home pay.
Take Home Pay After Applicable Taxes
- San Diego – household income: $68,793
- Denver – household income: $64,617
- Fort Worth – household income: $60,229
- Oklahoma City – household income: $50,736
- Albuquerque – household income: $48,668
- Laredo – household income: $48,396
- El Paso – household income: $46,412
- Tucson – household income: $41,847
- Detroit – household income: $31,002
Now that we know how much our sample family takes home, we can then look at what it costs to own a home in our sample communities.
We used Zillow to find the average cost of a house for each of our communities and ranked them from lowest to highest.
- Detroit – average price of a house: $69,857
- Laredo – average price of a house: $190,999
- Oklahoma City – average price of a house: $197,250
- El Paso – average price of a house: $203,290
- Albuquerque – average price of a house: $315,965
- Fort Worth – average price of a house: $329,047
- Tucson – average price of a house: $330,721
- Denver – average price of a house: $640,554
- San Diego – average price of a house: $968,370
As readers can see, El Paso is the fourth most affordable city for purchasing a home. However, we still need to determine if an El Paso family can afford the home when we add the property taxes to the analysis.
Before we can analyze the taxes, we need to understand what the monthly payment is on a 30-year mortgage for the house. To do this we found the median credit score for each of our communities. In two of our communities, Detroit and Fort Worth, the median credit score was below 620 which is considered a sub-prime loan subject to a higher penalty interest rate. For both of those cities we used a 7% interest rate. To rank our sample cities by the monthly mortgage payment is unfair because the average income is different for each community. Therefore, we calculated what percent of the median income would be applied to the mortgage payment before taxes. The percent in parentheses is the percent of the average monthly take home pay that would go towards paying the mortgage. In Denver, Tucson and San Diego, a family of three with two working parents earning the median income could not afford a house. El Paso costs a median two-income earner 32% of their wages to make their house payment before the property taxes. We then ranked our sample cities by how much of their take home pay it takes to make the mortgage payment.
- Detroit – estimated monthly payment: $465 (17%)
- Oklahoma City – estimated monthly payment: $1,173 (25%)
- Laredo – estimated monthly payment: $1,253 (29%)
- El Paso – estimated monthly payment: $1,204 (32%)
- Albuquerque – estimated monthly payment: $1,829 (40%)
- Fort Worth – estimated monthly payment: $2,189 (41%)
- Tucson – estimated monthly payment: $1,877 (50%)
- Denver – estimated monthly payment: $3,636 (60%)
- San Diego – estimated monthly payment: $5,363 (77%)
Although, technically, our sample family would not qualify for a mortgage and would unlikely be unable to afford it without help in Tucson, Denver and San Diego, we have kept them in our comparison list to continue our investigation. We then looked at what applying the property taxes to our comparison does to our city ranking.
How Taxes Affects El Paso’s Housing Ranking
As a reminder, we have calculated the take home pay for each household considering state income taxes in the states that have them and ranked the cities by the percent of the median income a mortgage takes from the earnings before we apply the property taxes.
- Detroit – principal and interest: $465 + taxes ($1,418/$118) = $583
- Oklahoma City – principal and interest: $1,173 + taxes ($2,130/$178) = $1,315
- Laredo – principal and interest: $1,253 + taxes ($3,992/$333) = $1,586
- El Paso – principal and interest: $1,204 + taxes ($4,635/$386) = $1,590
- Albuquerque – principal and interest: $1,829 + taxes ($3,349/$279) = $2,108
- Tucson – principal and interest: $1,877 + taxes ($3,142/$262) = $2,139
- Fort Worth – principal and interest: $2,189 + taxes ($6,384/$532) = $2,721
- Denver – principal and interest: $3,636 + taxes ($3,075/$256) = $3,892
- San Diego – principal and interest: $5,363 + taxes ($7,069/$589) = $5,952
As can be observed, after adding the estimated taxes to our samples, El Paso remains in fourth place for housing in our comparison.
It should be noted by readers that each jurisdiction applies different taxes on properties depending on school districts, county and other taxes like hospital districts. Not knowing the specific property, we took averages for each jurisdiction and determined a likely average tax for that community.
Home insurance varies according to location, the family’s credit, the cost to replace a house, if the property is in a flood zone or other dangerous location and the number of recent claims by the family or their neighbors. Because of that, we used the average cost of insurance per state to determine a close approximation of the cost to insure our sample properties.
Our sample properties are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. According to Bankrate the average cost of home insurance in Arizona is $101 a month. For California, the insurance cost is $90, in Colorado it is $155 and in Michigan it is $108. For Oklahoma, the average cost for insurance is $299. For New Mexico, the average cost to insure the house is $162 and in Texas it is $155. 
In addition to insuring the house, our sample families also pay for utility services each month. We compared the costs of the utilities in each of our sample cities, including an approximation of local taxes and fees.
Utilities (Electricity, Natural Gas & Water)
We used EnergySage to compare the average cost of electricity for our sample family. EnergySage is an online solar energy marketplace funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that offers the average cost of electricity for different communities. Based on the EnergySage information we find that El Paso has the highest average electric rate.
We then compared the water rates for our sample cities. The water utilities include sewer in their water utility bills. For our comparison we used an April 2022 City of Phoenix water utility bill comparison report for our sample cities except for Denver and Laredo.  For Laredo we used a 2019 news report for our average water calculation of $63.65.  For Denver, we consulted the Denver water utility.
We then looked at the average cost of natural gas for our sample cities. Like electricity, the weather plays an important role in the cost of natural gas, especially in a cold city like Denver, and in the case of the recent volatility of natural gas prices, its impact not only affects heating but electricity rates as well.
For the average cost of natural gas in our sample cities, we consulted recent local news media reports to find the average for each city. We then ranked our sample cities again by the average cost of utilities. In terms of utilities, El Paso is the third more expensive city in our sample for utility services.
Electricity + Water/Sewer + Natural Gas = Total Utilities
- Denver, Colorado $119 + $45 + $68 = $232
- Laredo, Texas $191 + $63 + $56 = $310
- Detroit, Michigan $202 + $47 + $68 = $317
- Albuquerque, New Mexico $142 + $54 + $139 = $335
- Fort Worth, Texas $224 + $97 + $52 = $373
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma $209 + $114 + $33 = $356
- El Paso, Texas $298 + $73 + $38 = $409
- Tucson, Arizona $270 + $128 + $40 = $438
- San Diego, California $237 + $185 + $69 = $491
The next item on our expense list are the weekly groceries. Unfortunately, because of the diversity in types of food that families choose to eat, how geography impacts the choices for meals and many other factors it is impossible to create a list of groceries that would fit our average family. However, we need to understand how the grocery expense impacts our city comparison. To do this we chose Walmart to check for prices because Walmart is the largest grocery store chain and because of online pricing we can compare prices in our select cities. The next thing we needed to do was to create a list of ten representative items that Americans tend to buy when they go shopping.
We chose the following ten items for our sample list from various sources listing what American consumers buy each month. When applicable, for each item we selected the most common brand. Using our list, we used Walmart’s online shopping cart and placed our items in it using each of our sample zip codes to determine the prices. For the Walmart store in Tucson, we had to substitute an off-brand sliced ham because the Oscar-Mayer brand was not available. For San Diego we were forced to substitute the Sara Lee bread with Nature’s Own and the Skippy peanut butter with Jif. In all instances we selected “pickup” for our items.
Our Ten Item List
- Cheerios box, 18oz. box
- Coca-Cola, 12 oz., 24-pack
- Eggs, 1 dozen, large eggs.
- Skippy peanut butter, 40 oz.
- Lay’s classic potato chips, 8oz. bag
- Milk (whole), half-a-gallon.
- Oscar Mayer uncured ham, 16 oz.
- Sara Lee 20 oz. white whole grain bread.
- Tide laundry detergent, 37 oz.
- Welch’s grape jelly, 30 oz jar.
We ranked our cities again after applying the appropriate sales tax to our sample Walmart list.
- Detroit, Michigan – total cost $50.32
- Tucson, Arizona – total cost $50.85
- Albuquerque, New Mexico – total cost $52.12
- El Paso, Texas – total cost $52.47
- San Diego, California – total cost $52.49
- Fort Worth, Texas – total cost $52.56
- Denver, Colorado – total cost $52.83
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – total cost $53.01
- Laredo, Texas – total cost $53.09
(See note no. 2)
Readers likely noted that El Paso ranks in fourth place for our sample grocery list after applying sales taxes to their purchases.
After ranking our sample cities by housing costs, utilities and a select list of groceries we added the transportation costs to our rankings. Although some of the cities on our list have viable mass-transportation, we chose to rank our cities by families with at least one new car to calculate transportation costs. Most news reports on the topic of the most popular car sold in America generally agree that the Ford F-150 pickup truck is the most popular car sold in 2021. For the total cost we assumed that a trade-in was not used as part of the purchase.
Most Americans purchase their vehicles instead of leasing.  For our ranking we used the Edmunds new price online tool for a base Ford F-150 XL Supercab and the appropriate zip code to determine our price for the vehicle. We then added the sales tax and registration fees for each of our selected cities. We used the local DMV online tools to calculate the tax and the fees to register the vehicle for the first time. We then ranked our cities again from most expensive to least expensive for our Ford truck example. Our figures include registering the vehicle and paying the associated taxes.
Edmunds Suggested Price Plus Taxes
- Denver, Colorado: $38,461.34
- Detroit, Michigan: $39,206.90
- Albuquerque, New Mexico: $39,351.85
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: $39,908.88
- El Paso, Texas: $40,597.73
- Tucson, Arizona: $40,704.69
- San Diego, California: $41,440.71
- Fort Worth, Texas: $41,576.49
- Laredo, Texas: $42,658.41
(See note no. 3)
Because our sample family is unlikely to purchase a new vehicle with cash, we assumed they used a loan for the truck. We used an interest rate of 5.86% for our sample communities, except for Detroit and Fort Worth whose average credit scores are subprime scores. For Detroit and Fort Worth we used an 11.2% subprime interest rate for their truck purchase. We assumed the loan would be for 5 years. We then ranked our sample cities by how much it would cost them each month to own the Ford truck.
Monthly Truck Payment
- Denver, Colorado: $741.06
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: $768.96
- El Paso, Texas: $782.23
- Tucson, Arizona: $784.29
- Albuquerque, New Mexico: $758.22
- San Diego, California: $798.47
- Laredo, Texas: $821.93
- Detroit, Michigan: $856.37
- Fort Worth, Texas $908.13
Readers should note that El Paso is the third most affordable city for the truck after factoring the sales taxes and the registration fees. It should also be noted that the sub-prime interest rates for Detroit and Fort Worth affected that city’s ranking in the cost of the truck purchase. According to automobile insurance online calculators, the average monthly insurance cost to insure the Ford F-150 is $128 for Texas, $109 for New Mexico, $149 for California, $118 for Colorado, $151 for Oklahoma, $101 for Arizona, and $232 for Michigan. We factored the car insurance cost based on the minimum required for the jurisdiction’s liability requirements and the minimum required by lenders.
We also need to factor in the monthly cost for gasoline. According to the United States Department of Transportation, the average American drove 12,724 miles in 2020. That averages to about 1,060 miles per month. Ford says that its 2021 Ford F-150 XL operates at 20 miles to the gallon in the city. Using that figure, we have estimated that our sample family will need 53 gallons of gasoline a month.
Using our average mileage and the price of gasoline we determined how much our sample family will spend on gasoline. We used the Sam’s Club’s online tool to look up the price of gasoline because it allows us to incorporate the price including local and state taxes to the price, giving us a more accurate amount. Our prices are based on regular unleaded. We also rounded the amounts shown. Laredo had the least expensive gasoline at $2.79 per gallon and San Diego had the most expensive gasoline at $5.60 per gallon at the time we checked the pricing. El Paso’s gasoline price was the second least expensive of our sample cities at $2.98 a gallon. Applying the cost of gasoline per month, the truck payment and the insurance we then ranked the cities based on the monthly transportation costs. (See note 4 below)
- Denver, Colorado: $1,039.26
- Albuquerque, New Mexico: $1045.30
- Tucson, Arizona: $1052.77
- El Paso, Texas: $1,068.17
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: $1,086.91
- Laredo, Texas: $1,097.80
- Fort Worth, Texas: $1,213.15
- San Diego, California: $1,244.27
- Detroit, Michigan: $1,284.47
What We Discovered
Ranking our sample cities strictly on the costs for housing, transportation and shopping is not an accurate comparison because there is a disparity on how much each of our sample families take home each month. To be fair, we must rank our sample cities based on what percentage of their monthly income goes towards housing and transportation.
Our first ranking, ranks our sample cities on what percentage of their income goes towards housing:
- Detroit: 39%
- Oklahoma City: 47%
- Laredo: 50%
- El Paso: 56%
- Albuquerque: 64%
- Fort Worth: 65%
- Tucson: 77%
- Denver: 80%
- San Diego: $800.25 more than the average income
As readers can observe, it is impossible to pay a mortgage on an average home in San Diego with an average salary. An average home in El Paso, including associated taxes and fees takes a little over 50% of the income in a three-family house with both parents working.
Our next ranking is what percent of the sample family’s income that goes toward transportation costs:
- Denver: 19%
- San Diego: 22%
- Fort Worth: 24%
- Albuquerque: 26%
- El Paso: 26%
- Oklahoma: 26%
- Laredo: 27%
- Tucson: 30%
- Detroit: 50%
Combining everything together, the costs for housing and for transportation allows us to compare El Paso to our sample communities. Because our analysis shows that it is impossible for a family of three with two parents earning an average income to own a home and a Ford truck, we discarded Tucson and San Diego from our ranking list. Although it is unlikely that our sample family can live in Albuquerque, Denver, Detroit and Fort Worth we left them on the list, nonetheless.
Housing And Transportation As A Percent of Income
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: 72%
- Laredo, Texas: 77%
- El Paso, Texas: 79%
- Detroit, Michigan: 89%
- Fort Worth, Texas: 89%
- Albuquerque, New Mexico: 90%
- Denver, Colorado: 99%
As can be observed, it takes about 79% of an average income in El Paso to pay for a mortgage on the average house and a Ford pickup truck which is the most sold vehicle in America. When we look at our list of Walmart purchases, we can observe that El Paso is in the fourth place of our city samples. The Walmart list allows us to factor in the cost of consumables with the sale tax into our comparison.
Readers should note that Oklahoma City is the most affordable city in our sample and it is one of two cities on our list that has a Republican mayor. It should also be noted that it is difficult to find cities run by Republicans to compare with El Paso because larger cities tend lean towards the Democrats, while the Republicans hold control over rural America. In 2022, 76.1% of the largest cities in America had Democratic mayors.  However, without completing a more comprehensive analysis with a larger list of similar communities across America, it is not possible to decide on whether party politics plays a role on the income to expense ratio for American families. Additionally, El Paso’s municipal elections are non-partisan, and although assumptions are made as to the party politics of any given mayor, the fact remains that El Paso’s mayor runs in a non-partisan election.
As we review our latest ranking list, we find that El Paso ranks third on our list Laredo. El Paso is often compared to Albuquerque and Tucson. We find that an average income earning family is priced out of Tucson entirely. El Paso outperforms Albuquerque in cost of living. Comparing the two cities closest to El Paso’s population we find that Denver families earning an average income are priced out of the community and our sample family in Detroit will find it extremely difficult to make ends meet. Our sample family in San Diego simply cannot pay their average bills. That leaves Oklahoma City and Laredo. However, before we compare El Paso to Oklahoma City and Laredo, we need to address the issue of education.
Because the average income per sample family is in relation to their educational attainment, we must understand the percent of the population that has a college degree or better. We consulted the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the percent of the population that is college educated in our sample cities. The figures are as of 2020 for individuals that are 25 years or older and hold a bachelor’s degree or better.
Percent of population with a college degree
- Denver, Colorado (50.3%)
- Albuquerque, New Mexico (36.5%)
- San Diego, California (34.7%)
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (31.5%)
- Fort Worth, Texas (30.1%)
- Tucson, Arizona (28.2%)
- El Paso, Texas (24%)
- Laredo, Texas (19.3%)
- Detroit, Michigan (16.4%)
When we compare education with the average income and the cost of living, we cannot find a correlation between the ability of an average family to make it in a community with a higher educational mix in its population with one that is lower in the educational rankings. This is likely because a family without higher educational credentials is likely priced out of a community that has many educated among its population. For example, Denver’s population is almost half highly educated but an average income family is priced out of Denver, suggesting that a college degree is required to live in Denver. Nonetheless, the average income in Denver does not betray a sense that an educated population generates a higher income. On the reverse side, the average family in Detroit cannot live on an average income even though Detroit’s educational mix is last on our list. Tucson, whose population is a little more educated than El Paso’s has priced out its average family of three and Laredo, with a lower educational attainment ranks higher than El Paso when ranked by the cost of living to average income.
Although it is unlikely to affect the cost-of-living metrics, we also ranked the cities based on their population make up of Hispanics in the community and the number of foreign-born residents.
Percent of population that is foreign born (US Census Bureau, 2020)
- San Diego, California (30.1%)
- Laredo, Texas (25.6%)
- El Paso, Texas (23.9%)
- Fort Worth, Texas (16.3%)
- Tucson, Arizona (14.6%)
- Denver, Colorado (14%)
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (11.7%)
- Detroit, Michigan (7.7%)
- Albuquerque, New Mexico (9.8%)
Percent of population that is Hispanic (US Census Bureau, 2020)
- El Paso, Texas (82.9%)
- Albuquerque, New Mexico (49.2%)
- Tucson, Arizona (44.2%)
- Fort Worth, Texas (35.1%)
- Denver, Colorado (29%)
- Laredo, Texas (25.6%)
- San Diego, California (25.6%)
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (20%)
- Detroit, Michigan (6.1%)
As can be observed, El Paso is third on the list to the number of foreign-born residents and first in the number of Hispanics in its population makeup.
From our ranking we see that Laredo and Oklahoma City ranks above El Paso for income versus cost-of-living expenses. This ranking considers taxes and consumables. To further understand if taxes make a difference, we will compare Oklahoma and Laredo with El Paso.
|% Foreign Born||24%||26%||12%|
|% College Degree||24%||20%||32%|
|Metroplex Population||2.7 million||636,000||1.4 million|
|GDP||$29.5 million||$12,1 million (Webb)||$62.3 million|
|US-México Trade||$128.3 billion||$49.8 billion||$1.3 billion (state)|
|Civilian Workforce||363.5 thousand||117.7 thousand||1,879.9 thousand|
|Government Workforce||68.4 thousand||23.7 thousand||351.8 thousand|
|Civilian/Government Job Mix||19%||20%||19%|
|Municipal Government Type||Council-Manager||Council-Manager||Council-Manager|
|City Council Seats||8 districts||8 districts||8 wards|
|Mayor Party Affiliation||Democrat||Independent||Republican|
2023 City Budget
|City property tax rate||2.09%||2.18%||0.96%|
|City S&P Credit Rating||AA||AA||AAA|
|City Tax Revenues||$373.7 million||$129.5 million||$780.4 million|
|City Fee Revenues||$83.3 million||$1.9 million||$263.4 million|
|City Total Revenues||$1.2 billion||$242.8 million||$1.8 billion|
|Voter Approved Debt (GOs)||$1.4 billion||$301.6 million||$1.03 billion|
|GO Debt per Capita||$2,072||$1,144||$1,498|
|Non-Voter Debt (COs)||$84.9 million (2020)||$29.9 million (2020)||$0 (see note 6)|
|Total City Expenses||$1.2 billion||$242.8 million||$1.8 billion|
|Bridge Fee Revenues||$26.4 million||$8.4 million||$0|
|City Manager Salary||$404,377||$277,200 (see note 7)||$268,244|
|Sales Tax Rate||8.25%||8.25%||8.625%|
- GDP: “Gross Domestic Product by County, 2020,” Bureau of Economic Analysis New Release, December 8, 2021.
- U.S.-México trade: El Paso: “El Paso Economic Indicators,” Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, April 20, 2022; Laredo: Ana L. Benavides, Laredo Development Foundation; Oklahoma: “Mexico’s Trade With Oklahoma, Edition 2021,” Secretría de Relaciones Exteriores
- (See note 5 below on Laredo’s economic plan)
- Civilian & Government workforces: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2022 figures. (not seasonally adjusted)
- Unemployment Rates: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, FRED Economic Data, unemployment rates for July 2022.
- 2023 Proposed City Budget and Municipal Metrics: El Paso: City of El Paso FY 2022-2023 Preliminary Budget; Laredo: Proposed Budget FY 22-23, City of Laredo; 2023 Adopted Budget, The City of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma is final budget for 2023, El Paso and Laredo are proposed 2023 budgets.
Quality of Life
Quality of life is subjective, which makes it difficult to compare. How one defines quality of life is dependent on the context that it is used in. Health professionals also track the quality of life to assess a patient’s wellbeing. However, it remains subjective to issues that cannot be quantified. 
Because quality of life cannot be quantified for comparison purposes we must rely on measurable metrics. For example, we can measure how much a family pays for housing. Comparing the percent of income for a family in each community in terms of housing we can analyze where a family earning an average income can afford to pay for housing. As such, for the purposes of our analysis we have not attempted to address quality-of-life as a factor because its subject nature does not allow us to complete a fair comparison.
This leaves us an analytical analysis of average income versus expenses to rank our sample communities to understand how an average El Paso family compares with similar families in other communities. Considering taxes and expenses, it becomes apparent that El Paso’s taxation, although comparatively high, does not negatively impact our sample families. That is not to say that taxes are not high or that they create other negatives to the community – a topic we will explore later – but as can be readily summarized, an average income family in El Paso fares better than most of our other sampled communities.
After discarding the other communities we sampled, leaving only Oklahoma City and Laredo as our two most comparable cities, an El Paso average family of three can afford to live in El Paso, albeit not in the federally expected income distribution of 30% towards housing, but, nonetheless, able to make it work even with an average income, including the taxes. Likewise, the 30% of suggested income for housing is unattainable even in a highly educated and high-income community.
Notably, among El Paso’s peer cities, El Paso stands out in the number of Hispanics in its midst and its populations’ educational attainment. But, economically, El Paso lags Oklahoma City, with about half of El Paso’s population, and Laredo, with a much smaller population outpaces El Paso in U.S.-México trade significantly.
Moreover, an El Paso resident is indebted almost twice as much in voter-approved municipal debt than its two comparable cities. El Paso residents pay about $2,072 compared to Oklahoma City’s $1,498 and Laredo’s $1,144 per capita public debt payments, raising the housing costs for the typical El Paso family. When it comes to non-voter approved debt, El Paso outpaces Laredo almost three-to-one and by 100% against Oklahoma City which is prohibited from issuing non-voter approved debt constitutionally.
In all other metrics, El Paso compares with Laredo and Oklahoma City, including its mix of government and civilian jobs, the unemployment rate and in that all three communities are governed by a city manager under the direction of a local city council.
But unlike its comparable cities, El Paso’s city manager, Tommy Gonzalez is paid almost twice as much as his counterparts. In our three-city comparison, Gonzalez manages a budget slightly larger than Oklahoma City’s while this city manager makes slightly more than half of Gonzalez’ salary but manages a larger city budget.
Nonetheless it cannot be ignored that an average income earning family in Albuquerque, Detroit and Fort Worth cannot pay for housing and transportation in their communities. Thus, El Pasoans fare better than their counterparts in those cities.
El Paso families may be subjected to high taxes as part of their public policy, but the fact remains that an El Paso family has a fighting chance in El Paso to own a home, a truck and pay for essentials even after taxes and government fees are included and compared to other similar communities.
- Mortgage average interest rates are as of September 1, 2022.
- Walmart list prices as of September 26, 2022.
- Ford F-150 pricing and tax information as of September 26, 2022. Our pricing model includes appropriate value-added taxes, where required, the sales tax, the registration fees for a new car and other applicable fees as per the jurisdiction’s DMV. We used Edmund’s suggested price per city is our purchase price for the sample truck.
- Gasoline prices are as of October 1, 2022.
- The Laredo metroplex considers itself an economic region on the border that includes the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas with Laredo and Nuevo Laredo as the trade hub for the region. Its mater plan expects to have a combined economic impact of $607.8 billion by 2050. 
- The Oklahoma state constitution in most cases prohibits the issuance of public debt without voter approval.
- Laredo city manager Robert Eads resigned on January 2022 after an FBI raid of his home related to an investigation into Rep. Henry Cuellar. The position remains open as of September 28. The salary is his last salary before his resignation. 
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/elpasocitytexas/PST045221).
- “The 50 largest cities in the United States,” PolitiFact, The Poynter Institute, accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.politifact.com/largestcities/).
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/laredocitytexas/PST045221).
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/denvercitycolorado/PST045221).
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/detroitcitymichigan/PST045221).
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/sandiegocitycalifornia/PST045221).
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/tucsoncityarizona/PST045221).
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/albuquerquecitynewmexico/PST045221).
- Eli J. Finkel and Cynthia S. Wang, “The Political Divide in America Goes Beyond Polarization and Tribalism,” KelloggInsight, October 29, 2020, https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/political-divide-america-beyond-polarization-tribalism-secularism.
- David Weigel and Lauren Tierney, “The four political states of Arizona,” The Washington Post, September 20, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/politics/arizona-political-geography/.
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/fortworthcitytexas/PST045221).
- United States Census Bureau, “Quick Facts,” accessed on September 22, 2022, (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/albuquerquecitynewmexico/PST045221).
- Henry Olsen, “Opinion: Are Americans starting to embrace one-earner households again?,” The Washington Post, November 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/11/12/are-americans-starting-embrace-one-earner-households-again/.
- Lyle Daly, “American Households’ Average Monthly Expenses: $5,111,” The Accent, February 22, 2022, https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/research/average-monthly-expenses/.
- Cate Deventer, “Average homeowners insurance cost in September 2022,” Bankrate, September 26, 2022.
- “Water and Wastewater Utility Bill Comparisons,” City of Phoenix, April 2022, (https://www.phoenix.gov/financesite/Documents/Water%20and%20Wastewater%20Utility%20Bill%20Comparison.pdf).
- Julie Wallace, “Laredoans’ water rates to rise in order to pay for expansion of city’s wastewater capacity,” Laredo Morning Times, April 5, 2019.
- Nora Eckert, “Car Buyers Shun Leases as Deals and Vehicles Dwindle,” The Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/car-buyers-shun-leases-as-deals-and-vehicles-dwindle-11648154831.
- Ballotpedia, “Party affiliation of the mayors of the 100 largest cities,” accessed on September 28, 2022, https://ballotpedia.org/Party_affiliation_of_the_mayors_of_the_100_largest_cities.
- Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan, Regional Summary, Laredo/Coahuila/Nuevo León/Tamaulipas Region, The Texas Department of Public Safety, May 24, 2021.
- Meriel E.M. Jenney and Stephen, “Measuring quality of life,” Archives in Childhood, National Institute of Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1997.