Local residents accustomed to thinking of the New York area as home to the highest earners and biggest spenders in the country may be surprised by a new report comparing 18 U.S. metropolitan regions.

The typical New York-area household earned $80,862 per year before taxes in 2012-13, placing seventh among the regions. Washington, D.C., had the highest average household income, at $115,597.

The rankings were the same for average household spending: New York was seventh at $60,791 a year and Washington was first, at $80,452.

To be sure, New Yorkers paid some of the highest housing costs in the nation, placing No. 2 with an average outlay of $9,448 per year. Washington topped the list, with an average expenditure of $11,726.

 

In middle of the pack

But in many spending categories, New York was in the middle or back of the pack. The region was 11th in spending on groceries, and 14th in spending on entertainment.

The data, from surveys by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in metro areas from Los Angeles to Boston, reveal New Yorkers are "average."

"New Yorkers are kind of average consumers -- they are consuming in similar patterns to the rest of the country in many ways," said Richard Vogel, an economist and dean of Farmingdale State College's business school.

The spending statistics for the New York region represent averages for a 31-county area that includes Nassau and Suffolk. The data, from interviews, questionnaires and spending diaries in 2012 and 2013, cover annual outlays for everything from health care to tobacco. Nearly 8,800 consumers participated, a sample bureau officials said was representative of the region.

New York ranked in the middle of the 18 metro areas in expenditures for auto insurance and repairs ($2,811) and restaurant meals ($3,114). It was No. 12 in spending on alcohol ($498); Boston was No. 1 at $764.

Education was the only category where New York was No. 1, with $2,280 spent, on average, per year for tuition to colleges and private schools, textbooks and other supplies.

"The concentration of private colleges in the area may account for that," Vogel said.

New York was last in spending on gasoline and motor oil ($2,180), because of the availability of public transportation.

In places like Miami, Cleveland and Dallas-Fort Worth, with limited mass transit, the average household spends one-third more on gas, Vogel said.

Long commutes may explain why New Yorkers spend less for books, newspapers and other reading materials. The center of the publishing world placed No. 12 with the typical household spending $102.

Retail consultant Danielle Conte said Long Island Rail Road riders often read papers left on seats or share books with commuters they've become friendly with over the years, and motorists who drive more than an hour to get to work have less time to read.

 

No. 5 in clothing

However, the New York area's distinction as a fashion center likely contributed to its No. 5 ranking for spending on clothes and shoes ($2,254).

"There's greater awareness of fashion trends," said Conte, who lived in New Jersey and California before starting youtailretail.com consultants in Centerport. "Spending is also higher because of the change of seasons; you need more clothing because of the weather."

She also said household expenditures in the New York area were likely depressed at the time of the survey by superstorm Sandy, which struck in October 2012.

"Sandy and its aftermath had a big impact," Conte said. "People weren't spending because they couldn't get out of their house at first and then had to spend what they had to make repairs."

A comparison of 2012-13 household expenditures with 2010-11 shows the New York area ranked substantially lower among all metro areas in terms of average outlays for groceries, restaurant meals and transportation after Sandy.

Vogel said the New York figures may also be "depressed" by intense competition among retailers, which reduces prices.

"While you might expect some costs to be higher" here, he said, "the fact is there is a lot more competition, which is holding down some costs" compared with other metro areas.