Finding the Best States for Jobs in 2018

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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 stagnationlevels 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 first quarter (Q1) of 2018 indicated a wide range of wages across states. For example, states with average weekly wages on the low end comprised: Mississippi $765, Idaho $809, Montana $819, South Dakota $842, New Mexico $862, West Virginia $868, South Carolina $877, Maine $891, Nebraska $898, and Kentucky $901.

State with average weekly wages on the high end were: District of Columbia $1,917, New York $1,597, Massachusetts $1,510, Connecticut $1,447, New Jersey $1,373, California $1,352, Washington $1,306, Illinois $1,241, Maryland $1,209, and Delaware $1,202.

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

The national average for wages was $1,162 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: Washington 7.7%, Massachusetts 5.6%, Utah 4.9%, New Hampshire 4.9%, Nevada 4.8%, California 4.4%, Idaho 4.3%, Oregon 4.3%, Florida 4.1%, Texas 3.9%, Indiana 3.9%, and Illinois 3.9%.

States with the lowest wage growth included: Delaware 1.3%, South Carolina 1.7%, District of Columbia 1.9%, Minnesota 2.1%, Mississippi 2.1%, Alaska 2.3%, Arkansas 2.4%, Connecticut 2.4%, Iowa 2.4%, and Montana 2.4%. 

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 3.7% for the period Q1, 2017 to Q1, 2018.

The large metro areas/counties with the highest weekly wages were: New York $3,087; Santa Clara, CA $2,651; San Mateo, CA $2,606; San Francisco $2,485; Suffolk, MA $2,268; Somerset, NJ $2,078; Fairfield, CT $1,959; Arlington, VA $1,959; Washington DC, $1,917; and Morris, NJ $1,808.

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

The BLS unemployment figures for September 2018 reveal very significant state-to-state differences.

The top 10 states with the lowest unemployment rates were:

Hawaii 2.2%, Iowa 2.9%, Idaho 2.7%, New Hampshire 2.7%, North Dakota 2.7%, Minnesota 2.8%, Nebraska 2.8%, Vermont 2.9%, Virginia 2.9%, South Dakota 3.0% and Wisconsin 3.0%. 

The states with the highest unemployment were: Alaska 6.5%, District of Columbia 5.7%, West Virginia 5.2%, Louisiana 5.0%, Mississippi 4.8%, Arizona 4.7%, Ohio 4.6%, New Mexico 4.6%, Nevada 4.5%, and Kentucky 4.5%. 

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

The national average unemployment rate stood at 3.7%. 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 March 2017 to March 2018: Idaho 3.5%, Utah 3.3%, Nevada 3.0%, Washington 2.8%, Arizona 2.8%, Colorado 2.5%, Georgia 2.3%, South Carolina 2.2%, Florida 2.2% and California 2.1%. States with the lowest job growth were: Alaska -0.5%, Mississippi 0.1%, Connecticut 0.1%, Kansas 0.2%, Hawaii 0.3%, Vermont 0.4%, Nebraska 0.4%, Iowa 0.5%, Kentucky 0.5%, and Louisiana 0.5%.

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 1.7%; Idaho Falls, Idaho 2.0%; Iowa City, Iowa 2%; Fargo, ND 2%; Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii 2.1%; Mankato-North Mankato, Minnesota 2.1%; Urban Honolulu, Hawaii 2.1%; Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa 2.2%; Dubuque, Iowa 2.2%; and Midland, Texas 2.2%.

The highest unemployment rates were recorded in: Yuma, Arizona 22%; El Centro, CA 20.3%; Visalia-Porterville, CA 8.7%; Bakersfield, CA 7.3%; Merced, CA 7.0%; Hanford-Corcoran, CA, 6.7%; Vineland-Bridgeton, NJ, 6.6%; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas 6.6%; Fresno, CA 6.6%; and Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas 6.3%.

Large metropolitan areas with the lowest unemployment rates were: Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN, 2.5%; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 2.7%; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 2.8%; Austin-Round Rock, Texas 3.0%; Nashville, TN 3.1%; Oklahoma City, OK 3.2%; Richmond, VA 3.2%; Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA/NH 3.3%; Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 3.3%; and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 3.4%.

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates include: New Orleans-Metairie, LA 5.3%; Cleveland-Elyria, OH 5.2%; Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 4.9%; Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA/NJ/DE 4.6%; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 4.6%; Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4.5%; Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 4.5%; Pittsburgh, PA 4.4%; Memphis, TN 4.4%; and Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 4.4%.

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