Nearly every evening, as my wife and I read another seemingly catastrophic news story, we both wonder “where can we move?” if you don’t want to live and work in your current city because the crime rate is too high, the health care services you or another family member may need are no longer available, or for a myriad of other reasons, you have a lot of research to do.
Career management coaches are trained to ask questions that will lead clients to their own answers. The three questions that occur to me immediately are:
- What cities offer the highest median salaries?
- What cities are the most expensive to live in?
- What cities are the most affordable places to live?
Answers to these questions will be just the start for your research. And you will find very few easy solutions because many personal variables come into play.
10 Highest Salary Cities
It took only a minute for us to find a list of cities with the highest median salaries. That list, found on Katie Couric’s blog, is in the following table.
|1||San Jose, CA||$75,770|
|5||New York, NY||$59,060|
|8||New Haven, CT||$53,350|
|10||San Diego, CA||$53,020|
The process would be simple if we need only establish what city has the highest salaries and relocate there. It’s not. First, a high median salary does not necessarily mean wages are high for your occupation or profession in that city, or that jobs in your specific field are available. For example, if you are an engineer, and move to a city with a plethora of big banks paying high wages, but few engineering firms, you may not find the work you want.
Even worse, salary differences among cities can come into play even if you are not seeking a new employer. For example, about 15 years ago I asked my employer in Brooklyn, NY to transfer me to a similar job in Philadelphia, PA, less than 100 miles away, when I planned to relocate. They would not offer me the same salary because salaries were lower in their Philadelphia business units.
Salary differences can even be an issue for remote workers. Reportedly, some employers in low-cost areas will not offer jobs to candidates in high-salary regions because they do not wish to pay the higher salaries.
The Most Expensive Cities
Part of the reason salaries are high in some cities is because the cost of living is also high. That means, in general, employers have to pay more so they will attract talent.
You need to look at cities with high salaries in light of their cost of living. A top-ten list of the most expensive cities to live in, according to the Bungalow blog, include:
- San Francisco, CA
- New York, NY
- Oakland, CA
- Boston, MA
- Washington, DC
- San Jose, CA
- Seattle, WA
- Honolulu, HI
- Los Angeles, CA
- San Diego, CA
An inspection of the two lists reveals the problem for mobile job seekers—7 of the 10 cities on Katie Couric’s list of high-salary cities are also among the ten most expensive cities to live in. The cities on both lists include San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Seattle, Washington, DC, Boston, and New York. Even if you know the way to San Jose (as the song says), and you have been offered a great salary at a tech start-up there, you may not be able to afford working and living in that city.
Yet another blog we reviewed provided a list of “affordable” cities to live in. Affordability, though, is going to mean something different to almost everyone. A city that is affordable for you and your partner when you are DINKs—double-income-no-kids—may not be affordable if you have a home full of school-aged children because your needs are different. Nonetheless, here’s a list of “cheap” cities we found:
- Memphis, TN
- Oklahoma City, OK
- San Antonio, TX
- Tulsa, OK
- Buffalo, NY
- Kansas City, MO
- Omaha, NE
- Fort Wayne, IN
- Jacksonville, FL
- Louisville, KY
Notably, none of the 10 “cheapest” cities are also on the list of cities with the highest salary levels. This makes sense. Why should employers pay top dollar in places where the cost of living is lower? The federal government adjusts its pay ranges based on the cost of living in the metro area where the job is located, and other large employers do the same. No doubt, when you seriously begin searching for work in a new city, you are going to find many other factors to consider. We’ve given you just a few issues to start with. Your takeaway should be “look before you leap.”