Want to make more money? Easy. Move to San Jose, Arlington, Va., or Hartford, Conn.
Okay, so maybe it’s not that simple. Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll earn a bigger paycheck in these cities—but it is more likely, as they're among the highest-paying metro areas in the country.
To find the cities where people earn the largest and smallest paychecks, we turned to Payscale.com, a site that has collected salary and career data from more than 35 million people. They looked at compensation data for professionals in the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (based on 2010 population estimates by the Census), and provided us with median pay for workers who hold at least a bachelor’s degree, across three experience levels: starting (5 or less years of experience), mid-career (10 or more years of experience) and overall (all years of experience).
“The range in pay is pretty astounding in that the metro area at the top of the list has workers with median pay more than double the metro area at the bottom of the list,” says Katie Bardaro, Payscale’s lead economist. “The cities at the top of the list are not too surprising, as they are dominated by high wage industries like tech (both IT and Biotech), finance or oil.”
At the very top is the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area. Overall median pay in the California metropolis is $93,100. The average salary for those just starting out is $86,600—and that number soars to $128,000 for mid-career professionals.
“This is a Mecca for IT firms and thus high-wage workers,” Bardaro says. “The IT labor market is notorious for high demand and low supply – both of which drive the going wage rate up.”
The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area also topped the Best Cities For Jobs This Fall, with the most optimistic forecast for hiring in the three-month period ending in December, according to a ManpowerGroup survey.
In the No. 2 spot: the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., area. Overall median pay is $73,500, on average, while professionals with five years or less of experience enjoy an average annual salary of $57,200. Mid-career workers with at least a bachelor’s degree earn a whopping $108,000 annual salary, on average.
“Similar to San Jose, the high wage rate in this city is driven by the prevalence of IT workers and they share many of the same high-paying jobs,” Bardaro says.
Unlike the San Jose and San Francisco metro areas, the No. 3 city is dominated by the finance industry. “There are a number of Fortune 500 corporate headquarters in this metropolitan area,” she says. “In fact, it is one of the largest financial districts in the Northeast.”
If you guessed it's the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. area, you’re correct.
The median overall pay for workers there is $68,700 annually, while average starting pay is $53,500 and mid-career is $95,500 a year, on average.
Rounding out the top five are the Washington-Arlington-Alexandra area, and the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown metropolis.
The 5 U.S. Cities Where People Earn The Biggest Paychecks
No. 1 Best-Paying City: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.
Overall median pay: $93,100
Starting median pay: $68,600
Mid-career median pay: $128,000
No. 2 Best-Paying City: San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.
Overall median pay: $73,500
Starting median pay: $57,200
Mid-career median pay: $108,000
No. 3 Best-Paying City: Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.
Overall median pay: $68,700
Starting median pay: $53,300
Mid-career median pay: $95,500
No. 4 Best-Paying City: Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.Va.
Overall median pay: $67,300
Starting median pay: $52,600
Mid-career median pay: $101,000
No. 5 Best-Paying City: Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas
Overall median pay: $66,700
Starting median pay: $53,200
Mid-career median pay: $94,600
At the other end of the spectrum we have the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Penn., area. As the worst-paying city in the U.S., college-educated employees there only make $45,400, on average. Newer professionals bring in about $36,800 a year; mid-career workers make $60,400, on average.
“This is an industrial metro area that was hit hard in the last few recessions and has been unable to recover,” Bardaro says.
Next we have the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas metro area, where degreed professionals make $45,600 a year, on average; less experienced workers earn $39,000, and mid-career employees rake in $62,100 a year.
“McAllen is a border city that takes advantage of their locale for trade opportunities,” Bardaro says. “However, there isn’t much money involved in these operations. The Census listed McAllen as the poorest metro area in the nation in 2011; this jives with our pay data as well.”
Similar to the top 10, the bottom 10 landed there due to the industries that dominate them, like Manufacturing, Real Estate, and Retail Trade, she says. “There aren’t too many surprises here.”
The 5 U.S. Cities Where People Earn The Smallest Paychecks
No. 1 Worst-Paying City: Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Penn.
Overall median pay: $45,400
Starting median pay: $36,800
Mid-career median pay: $60,400
No. 2 Worst-Paying City: McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
Overall median pay: $45,600
Starting median pay: $39,000
Mid-career median pay: $62,100
No. 3 Worst-Paying City: Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla.
Overall median pay: $46,500
Starting median pay: $40,000
Mid-career median pay: $60,100
No. 4 Worst-Paying City: El Paso, Texas
Overall median pay: $46,900
Starting median pay: $39,600
Mid-career median pay: $60,100
No. 5 Worst-Paying City: Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Penn.
Overall median pay: $47,400
Starting median pay: $38,400
Mid-career median pay: $63,000