Finding the Best States for Jobs in 2019

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What states are best for getting hired? Are you wondering which locations provide the best job opportunities? The answer will vary depending on the occupations and industries you're targeting. However, the average wages in various locations, trends in wage growth and stagnation, levels of unemployment, and job growth can all help workers like you to identify areas with the most robust economic activity.

Average Weekly U.S. Wages

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) produces quarterly reports on the average (mean) weekly wages in various locations. The BLS wage report by state for the third quarter (Q3) of 2018 indicated a wide range of wages across states. For example, states with average weekly wages on the low end comprised: Mississippi $754, Idaho $805, Arkansas $811, Montana $815, South Dakota $827, South Carolina $834, Maine $851, New Mexico $855, Kentucky $855, Kansas $867, Nebraska $873, Oklahoma $874, Iowa $887, Vermont $892, and West Virginia $894.

States with average weekly wages on the high end were: District of Columbia $1,807, Massachusetts $1,305, Washington $1,280, New York $1,272, California $1,260, Connecticut $1,209, New Jersey $1,181, Maryland $1,130, Colorado $1,104, Illinois $1,087, Virginia $1,082, and Minnesota $1,074.

Below, you can see a breakdown of the 10 highest and 10 lowest weekly wage averages by state.

The national average for wages was $1,055 per week. Read about the complete list of wages by state.

States with the Highest Increases/Decreases in Wages

The same report also identifies the states with the greatest year-on-year increase and decrease in wages.

States with the greatest increases were: West Virginia 8.1%, Washington 6.2%, North Dakota 4.4%, New York 4.2%, Minnesota 4.2%, New Mexico 3.9%, Tennessee 3.9%, Oregon 3.8%, California 3.8%, Maine 3.7%, Louisiana 3.7%, Iowa 3.7%, and Alaska 3.7%.

States with the lowest wage growth included: Rhode Island -1.3%, South Carolina 0.8%, New Hampshire 1.7%, New Jersey 2.1%, Kentucky 2.2%, Hawaii 2.4%, Delaware 2.4%, Indiana 2.4%, Maryland 2.4%, Nevada 2.4%, and Connecticut 2.5%. 

Below, you can see a breakdown of the biggest year-on-year increases and decreases in wages by state.

Average weekly wages for the nation as a whole increased by 3.3% for the period Q3, 2017, to Q3, 2018.

The large metro areas/counties with the highest weekly wages were: Santa Clara, CA $2,460; San Mateo, CA $2,363; San Francisco $2,097; New York, NY $1,997; Washington, D.C. $1807; King, WA $1,752; Suffolk, MA $1,706; Arlington, VA $1,691; Fairfax, VA $1588; Middlesex, MA $1563; and Somerset, NJ $1487.

Where the Jobs Are (and Aren’t) by State

The BLS unemployment figures for March 2019 reveal very significant state-to-state differences.

The states with the lowest unemployment rates were:

North Dakota 2.3%, Vermont 2.3%, Iowa 2.4%, New Hampshire 2.4%, Hawaii 2.8%, Nebraska 2.8%, South Dakota 2.8%, Idaho 2.9%, Virginia 2.9%, Wisconsin 2.9%, Utah 3%, and Massachusetts 3%.

The states with the highest unemployment rates were: Alaska 6.5%, District of Columbia 5.6%, West Virginia 5.1%, New Mexico 5.1%, Arizona 5%, Mississippi 4.9%, Louisiana 4.7%, Washington 4.6%, Ohio 4.4%, Oregon 4.4%, and Illinois 4.4%. 

You can compare the highest and lowest unemployment rates by state in the map below.

The national average unemployment rate stood at 3.9% for March 2019. You can read a complete list of unemployment by state.

Job growth year over year is another way to evaluate how attractive the job market is in a particular area.

The following states had the highest job growth on a percentage basis from September 2017 to September 2018: Florida 4.6%, Utah 3.4%, New Hampshire 3.4%, Idaho 3.0%, South Carolina 2.8%, Arizona 2.8%, Texas 2.6%, Washington 2.4%, Colorado 2.1%, and California 1.8%.

The national average job-growth rate during that period was 1.6%. You can read a complete list of the job growth in all states.

Unemployment by Metro Area

Metropolitan areas with the lowest unemployment include Ames, Iowa 1.5%; Burlington, VT 1.8%; Iowa City, IA 1.9%; Midland, TX 2.1%; Madison, WI 2.4%; Boulder, CO 2.5%; Fayetteville, AR 2.5%; Logan, UT 2.5%; Odessa, TX 2.5%; Fort Collins, CO 2.6%; Manchester, NH 2.6%; Nashville, NH 2.6%; Portsmouth, NH 2.6%; and Sheboygan, WI 2.6%.

The highest unemployment rates were recorded in: El Centro, CA 17.8%; Yuma, Arizona 12.1%; Visalia-Porterville, CA 12.1%; Ocean City 11.5%; Merced, CA 11.0%; Hanford-Corcoran, CA10.3%; Salinas, CA10.1%; Bakersfield, CA 10.1%; Fresno, CA 9.4%; and Yuba City, AZ 9.4%.

Large metropolitan areas with the lowest unemployment rates were: Nashville-Davidson—Murfreesboro—Franklin, TN 2.6%; Austin-Red Rock, TX 2.7%; Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA/NH 2.7%; Denver-Arora-Lakewood, CO 2.9%; Oklahoma City, OK 3.0%; Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 3.0%; Salt Lake City 3.0%; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 3.0%; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 3.0%;and San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 3.1%.

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates include: Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4.5%; Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 4.5%; Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 4.4%; Cleveland-Elyria, OH 4.4%; Sacramento—Roseville—Arden-Arcade, CA 4.3%; Rochester, NY 4.2%; Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 4.2%; Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 4.2%; Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 4.1%; Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 4.1%; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 4.1%; and Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 4.1%.

You can also find a complete list of unemployment by metropolitan area.

Determine the Location Quotient

When evaluating the best location for jobs for your situation, you also need to take into account the concentration of opportunities in your target field. There are some cities that have more job opportunities than others, where economic growth has stalled. There are also locations that have a higher percentage of jobs that pay well.

For example, Hollywood and Toronto have many more opportunities in film and entertainment than most areas. Hartford, CT, is an insurance center. Massachusetts and New Jersey are great areas for pharma and biotechnology. New York City is a center for finance and theater.

One technique for assessing the job market in various target locations is to visit and conduct searches in your career fields of interest for your preferred locations. Identify the number of jobs in your field as a percentage of the total number of jobs in each location to determine the concentration of relevant jobs within those locations.

The BLS produces a measure of how concentrated various fields are in different locations. You can check out the occupations with the highest location quotient for various areas here.

Calculate the Cost of Living

Factoring in the cost of living can enhance your analysis regarding what you can earn in different locations. The Cost of Living Index and Cost of Living Calculator can help you to determine and to compare the cost of living in different target locations. In addition to adjusting income for the cost of living, you can use a variety of other calculators to determine your salary, benefits, and a net paycheck in a new location.

Figure Out the Logistics

If you’re thinking that a new location would be worth exploring, you can read tips for finding a job in a new city that will help you to get started on the road to a new career.