The Cities Where People Earn the Biggest and Smallest Paychecks

Forbes
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In the No. 2 spot: the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., area. Overall median pay is $73,500, on average.

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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.”

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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

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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

More On Forbes: Cities Where People Earn The Least

Continue to page 2 to see how all 100 metropolitan statistical areas rank.

Metropolitan Area Overall Median Pay Starting Median Pay Mid-Career Median Pay
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $93,100 $68,600 $128,000
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA $73,500 $57,200 $108,000
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT $68,700 $53,300 $95,500
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV $67,300 $52,600 $101,000
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX $66,700 $53,200 $94,600
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT $66,300 $51,300 $90,100
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA $65,800 $50,900 $94,400
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA $64,900 $51,000 $98,400
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA $64,900 $50,000 $93,800
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH $64,700 $50,500 $96,800
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA $64,600 $50,100 $93,400
Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Roseville, CA $63,800 $49,000 $87,400
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA $63,700 $49,600 $95,000
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX $62,200 $49,100 $87,300
Raleigh-Cary, NC $62,000 $46,700 $87,200
Baltimore-Towson, MD $61,700 $49,500 $87,200
Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO $61,700 $48,800 $86,100
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI $61,500 $46,300 $82,500
Bakersfield, CA $60,900 $50,200 $83,900
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL $60,700 $46,800 $78,400
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI $60,400 $47,900 $84,400
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD $60,300 $47,300 $86,200
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ $60,000 $47,200 $81,300
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI $59,900 $48,000 $87,300
Colorado Springs, CO $59,700 $46,300 $79,600
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA $59,500 $46,400 $83,300
Salt Lake City, UT $59,300 $48,500 $82,800
Austin-Round Rock, TX $59,200 $45,800 $86,400
Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC-SC $59,100 $46,400 $81,200
New Haven-Milford, CT $58,500 $45,700 $79,300
Las Vegas-Paradise, NV $57,800 $46,500 $76,800
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA $57,800 $45,500 $77,300
Modesto, CA $57,600 $47,700 $73,000
Dayton, OH $57,600 $46,000 $76,300
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ $57,400 $44,500 $77,300
Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA $57,300 $44,800 $82,100
Worcester, MA $57,200 $45,700 $78,500
Greenville-Mauldin-Easley, SC $57,100 $42,900 $78,100
Albuquerque, NM $57,000 $44,900 $73,700
Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN $56,400 $45,600 $79,800
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL $56,100 $44,700 $79,500
Tucson, AZ $56,000 $43,500 $75,400
Kansas City, MO-KS $55,900 $45,200 $76,600
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY $55,900 $44,500 $76,800
Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA $55,900 $44,500 $76,200
Richmond, VA $55,800 $43,600 $76,400
Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY $55,500 $44,200 $72,900
Stockton, CA $55,300 $44,400 $74,500
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH $55,200 $44,600 $74,300
Honolulu, HI $55,100 $44,000 $77,500
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI $54,800 $44,400 $75,700
Indianapolis-Carmel, IN $54,700 $44,500 $75,500
San Antonio, TX $54,700 $43,900 $74,300
Pittsburgh, PA $54,600 $43,600 $74,700
Jacksonville, FL $54,600 $42,800 $73,800
St. Louis, MO-IL $54,500 $44,000 $76,800
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL $54,500 $43,800 $74,100
Columbus, OH $54,400 $44,200 $75,800
Madison, WI $54,100 $44,600 $74,300
Rochester, NY $54,000 $42,400 $74,600
Wichita, KS $53,700 $44,100 $70,100
Memphis, TN-MS-AR $53,700 $43,700 $71,700
Ogden-Clearfield, UT $53,600 $46,300 $74,000
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA $53,400 $41,900 $75,900
Tulsa, OK $53,300 $43,400 $69,000
Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA $53,300 $43,200 $74,000
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN $53,100 $43,300 $72,100
Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA $53,100 $42,900 $73,400
Syracuse, NY $53,000 $42,800 $70,000
Boise City-Nampa, ID $52,700 $43,600 $72,100
Orlando-Kissimmee, FL $52,700 $41,700 $72,900
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL $52,600 $40,800 $66,800
Greensboro-High Point, NC $52,400 $40,900 $69,400
Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC $52,000 $42,500 $70,500
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN $52,000 $41,900 $72,700
Baton Rouge, LA $51,900 $43,500 $71,200
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA $51,700 $42,600 $70,700
Fresno, CA $51,700 $41,800 $73,300
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC $51,500 $41,600 $70,600
Knoxville, TN $51,400 $41,100 $70,400
Provo-Orem, UT $51,200 $42,300 $77,900
Akron, OH $51,200 $40,800 $68,500
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY $51,000 $41,000 $70,100
Birmingham-Hoover, AL $50,800 $41,500 $73,400
Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, SC $50,700 $41,400 $69,700
Springfield, MA $50,400 $40,800 $65,900
Jackson, MS $50,200 $41,400 $64,600
Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice, FL $50,100 $39,000 $64,400
Toledo, OH $49,800 $40,300 $67,300
Oklahoma City, OK $49,700 $41,500 $68,200
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI $49,500 $40,600 $68,200
Lancaster, PA $49,000 $41,400 $66,800
Columbia, SC $48,500 $39,100 $68,300
Chattanooga, TN-GA $48,400 $39,900 $65,400
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR $47,700 $40,900 $63,100
Scranton--Wilkes-Barre, PA $47,400 $38,400 $63,000
El Paso, TX $46,900 $39,600 $60,100
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL $46,500 $40,000 $60,100
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX $45,600 $39,000 $62,100
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA $45,400 $36,800 $60,400
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