10 Places Where People Earn the Highest Salaries
Residents in these metro areas earn much more than the average American.
The U.S. News Best Places Data Drill Down, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that sheds light on multiple data points in order to help readers make the most informed decision when choosing where to live in the United States. Visit our 2016 Best Places to Live ranking to see which of the 100 most populous metro areas made it to the top of the list based on good value, desirability, a strong job market and high quality of life.
When it comes to salary, the difference between a considerably high annual income and an average one can mean the difference between living comfortably, with money left over to spend freely, and living paycheck to paycheck.
The cost of living in a particular city or neighborhood doesn’t just stop at a person's ability to afford basic needs, like accessibility to nutritious food and reliable transportation, but it also determines the ability to go out to eat or attend social events.
Annual salary data, pulled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was one of the many factors considered for U.S. News & World Report's inaugural Best Places to Live in the U.S. ranking. Our ranking evaluated the 100 largest metro areas in the country based on their affordability, job market and quality of life, among other factors.
The average annual salary, of the 100 metros that were ranked, was about $46,045 from 2015 to 2016. Among the 10 metro areas with the highest annual salary, the average salary was much higher at about $61,080.
In some of the country's largest metro areas, many of the residents earn an annual salary that is well over the national average, allowing them to more easily afford the cost of living.
At the top of the list, with an average annual salary of more than $75,000, is San Jose, California; it's also ranked No. 10 in the 2016 Best Places to Live ranking. The city's job market generates a number of higher-paying positions that require special skills and, sometimes, advanced degrees. In San Jose, much of the population consists of engineers and computer scientists, many of whom graduate each year from high-ranking local institutions, particularly Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley.
In San Francisco and the District of Columbia, which both ranked in the top 10 of the 2016 Best Places to Live, the average salary is just under $65,000, nearly $20,000 higher than the national average. San Francisco's largest industry is tourism, though many residents earn significantly more per hour because, like in San Jose, many of the jobs here require specific skill sets or advanced degrees.
In the District, a large amount of residents, including those living in the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs, work for the government – primarily as government contractors. There are also a number of residents who are employed within the region's large education, healthcare, business, leisure and hospitality industries; however, jobs working within the legal and finance industries tend to pay more per year.
Below are the 10 metro areas with the highest average annual salary.
Place (Metro Area)
Average Annual Salary for 2015 - 2016
Spot in 2016 U.S. News Best Places to Live Ranking
|San Jose, California||$75,770||#10|
|Washington, District of Columbia||$65,890||#8|
|New York City||$61,641||#96|
|New Haven, Connecticut||$53,350||#88|
Also known to have a high average annual income is New York City, which ranked low in the overall Best Places to Live ranking, largely due to the high cost of living. In New York City, the unemployment rate is 0.6 percent lower than the national average of 5 percent and residents spend more than 50 percent of their income on living expenses. In contrast, Denver, which claimed the No.1 spot in the overall Best Places to Live ranking, has an annual salary of $53,060 – lower than New York's, but the unemployment rate is 1.9 percent lower than the national average, and residents spend less than 30 percent of their income on living expenses.
New York's wage gap, mainly due to the city's wide variety of industries within the job market – including finance, advertising, fashion and manufacturing – make the high cost of living difficult to afford for those who aren't at the top of the pay range. As a result, many residents are left attempting to live above their means.
Be sure to check out our 2016 Best Places to Live methodology for insight on how we analyzed and determined our calculations.