Updated November 30, 2013

Study: Best Cities for High-Paying Jobs

Where You're Likely to Earn More

Want to make more money? Specialized education, experience, and industry connections can go a long way, but geography also plays a role. Some cities have many kinds of jobs that make millionaires, while in others, it's tough to break out of the middle of the pack.

Below is how large U.S. cities break down when it comes to the promise of high-paying work.

Study Methodology

Looking at U.S. metropolitan areas with populations over 1 million, we considered three factors:

  1. Average pay
  2. High-income concentration
  3. Economic growth

We started by looking at the most obvious measurement of wage levels: average weekly pay. This measure, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, gives a sense of how wages and salaries compare in different areas. The average weekly pay for the cities we looked at was $879.

The problem with looking at averages is that they don’t show how many people are at the top or bottom end of the scale. A $1,000 average weekly paycheck could mean half the population makes $250 a week while the other half makes $1,750 — or it could mean everyone makes $1,000. So, to find places where high incomes are common, we also looked at Census data to find the percentage of households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more. The average for this measure was 23.8 percent.

Last, we wanted to incorporate a bit of forward thinking. Even if a city has a lot of high-paying jobs today, if the local economy is shrinking, those jobs might not be there tomorrow. So we checked the Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers to find how much the gross domestic product (GDP) of each area rose or fell between 2008 and 2011, in “real,” or inflation-adjusted, terms. On average, the large urban areas we looked at grew by 0.4 percent.

10 Best Cities for High-Paying Jobs

1. San Jose, CA

San Jose, California
San Jose, California

  • Average weekly pay: $1,464
  • High-income concentration: 42.8%
  • Economic growth: 17.6%

Silicon Valley is known for minting millionaires, so it’s no surprise the San Jose area tops our list. The average weekly pay here is $1,464, which translates to $76,128 a year. The chances of being in a high income bracket are strong, with 42.8 percent of households making $100,000 a year or more. In addition, the economy grew by more than 17 percent between 2008 and 2011.

Standout Sectors: Not surprising, information is one of the largest and highest-paying industries in San Jose. However, wholesale trade and professional, scientific, and technical services also keep many people employed in high-wage jobs. It might help to be a software geek to do well in this tech mecca, but it’s not a necessity.

2. Washington, DC

Washington, DC
Washington, DC

  • Average weekly pay: $969
  • High-income concentration: 43.4%
  • Economic growth: 4%

The District of Columbia is one of the most polarized urban areas in the nation when it comes to income, which explains why it has a higher percentage of high-income households than San Jose despite a significantly lower average pay. If you’re lucky enough to be among the movers and shakers in this city, you’ll likely make out well. It doesn’t hurt that the local economy has grown at a reasonably brisk pace — at least relative to most urban areas — since 2008.

Standout Sectors: Here, by far the biggest high-wage industry is professional, scientific, and technical services, a category that includes law firms, public relations specialists, and many of the other specialty professions that thrive in the nation’s seat of political power.

3. Boston, MA

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts

  • Average weekly pay: $1,073
  • High-income concentration: 33.9%
  • Economic growth: 4.9%

Known for high-powered colleges like Harvard and MIT, the Boston area delivers income levels that don’t scream “starving student.” The average worker makes more than a grand a week, and more than a third of households bring in over $100,000 a year. The city was spared much of the wrath of the economic collapse of 2008 and grew nearly 5 percent over the following three years. The city has strong technology and medical industries, making it attractive to people in a variety of roles.

Standout Sectors: The health care and social services are the biggest sources of employment here. These jobs offer a mix of pay rates, but some are quite high. Many high-paying jobs can also be found in Boston’s finance and insurance and professional, scientific, and technical services fields.

4. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, California
San Francisco, California

  • Average weekly pay: $1,137
  • High-income concentration: 37.1%
  • Economic growth: -0.7%

The Bay City lured young people in the 1960s with promises of a wild new way of living. Today, the attraction is more an entry into an upper-income lifestyle. With average weekly pay of $1,137 and more than 37 percent of households making $100,000 or more — and housing prices to match — the San Francisco area is no place for underemployed free spirits. For the ambitious, though, the city offers opportunities in technology, financial services, and a variety of other industries. The major downside is the fact that the economy slipped a bit — shrinking by 0.7 percent — between 2008 and 2011.

Standout Sectors: As in DC, professional, scientific, and technical services are by far the biggest high-wage industry. In addition, finance and insurance, health care, and social services and information are all big business here too.

5. Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon

  • Average weekly pay: $848
  • High-income concentration: 21.6%
  • Economic growth: 15.2%

Like San Francisco to its south, Portland has a longstanding reputation as a laid-back city. But it’s also growing at an impressive pace — the economy went up 15.2 percent between 2008 and 2011. The average pay and concentration of high-income households are less stellar figures than those in the other cities on our list, but if that level of growth keeps up, pay is likely to rise as well. Portland’s high tech industry as well as a major port that connects the city with Asia are huge advantages that seem likely to keep pushing its economy forward in the years to come.

Standout Sectors: Unlike in most other cities on this list, Portland doesn’t have an industry where excellent pay is nearly universal. Instead, high-paying jobs are spread among industries, including health care and social services, wholesale trade, and manufacturing, which also provide many decent middle-income jobs.

6. Austin, TX

Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas

  • Average weekly pay: $940
  • High-income concentration: 25%
  • Economic growth: 8.7%

Austin is known for its excellent music scene and fun nightlife, but it also comes in strong for high-paying jobs. The level of growth here — 8.7 percent — is especially noteworthy, but the fact that 25 percent of households make $100,000 or more is also worth mentioning. The average weekly pay of $940 is enough to take care of most people’s everyday needs while leaving plenty of funds for outings to see some of those famed performances.

Standout Sectors: Professional, scientific, and technical services is one of the most significant industries for high-wage jobs, but health care and social services and wholesale trade are also strong industries for earning big money.

7. Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington

  • Average weekly pay: $1,157
  • High-income concentration: 29%
  • Economic growth: 0.9%

Like Portland, Seattle benefits from its location on the West Coast, with a strong maritime industry. It’s also home to plenty of high tech and life science companies. The average weekly pay is the second-highest on our list at $1,157. The concentration of high-income households is a bit less impressive, which suggests that this is a city with less distance between the haves and have-nots than most. The economy grew just under 1 percent between 2008 and 2011 — pretty unimpressive but still better than average.

Standout Sectors: Information is the largest high-paying industry — not surprising for the home of Amazon.com. But there are plenty of opportunities in health care and professional fields, as well.

8. Houston, TX

Houston, Texas
Houston, Texas

  • Average weekly pay: $958
  • High-income concentration: 24.8%
  • Economic growth: 7.8%

Like Austin, the other Texas city on our list, Houston’s economy has grown significantly, and nearly a quarter of households here have incomes of $100,000 or more. Like much of Texas, Houston has benefited from the oil and gas boom created by fracking projects — particularly Eagle Ford Shale in the southern part of the state. Beyond energy, the biomedical and aerospace industries are also strong in this city.

Standout Sectors: Houston’s high-paying jobs are found in management of corporations and enterprises, as the city hosts many holding company offices.

9. Baltimore, MD

Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland

  • Average weekly pay: $922
  • High-income concentration: 30.9%
  • Economic growth: 3%

On all three of our measures, Baltimore falls a bit short of the almost-neighboring Washington, DC, area, but it’s still well-above average in all three topics. Medicine and life sciences are healthy sectors, but the area has a good mix of industries to choose from, as well. Three out of 10 households bring in at least $100,000 a month, average weekly pay is $922, and the economy is growing — if somewhat modestly.

Standout Sectors: The professional, scientific, and technical sector provides the most high-paying jobs, with health care and social assistance, as well as finance and insurance, close behind.

10. New York, NY

New York, New York
New York, New York

  • Average weekly pay: $947
  • High-income concentration: 31.1%
  • Economic growth: 1%

This traditional center of finance and business just barely squeaks onto our list. New York is known for the crazy pay of CEOs and Wall Street hedge fund managers; indeed, it hosts a lot of high-income households— more than 31 percent make $100,000 or more. Average weekly pay is well above average at $947. And the economy grew slightly quicker than average for a big city between 2008 and 2011.

Standout Sectors: The finance and insurance industry is far and away the best place to make big bucks here, but New York has high-paying opportunities in almost every field simply because of its huge size.

Of course, not all jobs in these cities will net workers high paychecks. In fact, some places with high concentrations of the rich are also home to a lot of poor people, too. Someone does the lower-paying landscaping at those mansions and cleans the dishes at high-end restaurants, after all. But for people with the right education, some drive, and perhaps some good connections, the potential paychecks in these cities can be jaw-dropping.

The other side of making money is saving it. Check out the CreditDonkey guide to finding the best credit card to optimize the way you make your purchases.

Top 40 Cities for High-Paying Jobs

  1. San Jose, CA
  2. Washington, DC
  3. Boston, MA
  4. San Francisco, CA
  5. Portland, OR
  6. Austin, TX
  7. Seattle, WA
  8. Houston, TX
  9. Baltimore, MD
  10. New York, NY
  11. Denver, CO
  12. Minneapolis, MN
  13. Dallas, TX
  14. San Diego, CA
  15. Philadelphia, PA
  16. Chicago, IL
  17. San Antonio, TX
  18. Providence, RI
  19. Richmond, VA
  20. Los Angeles, CA
  21. Nashville, TN
  22. Charlotte, NC
  23. Milwaukee, WI
  24. Pittsburgh, PA
  25. Atlanta, GA
  26. Kansas City, MO
  27. Indianapolis, IN
  28. Sacramento, CA
  29. Cincinnati, OH
  30. St. Louis, MO
  31. Louisville, KY
  32. Columbus, OH
  33. Detroit, MI
  34. Virginia Beach, VA
  35. Jacksonville, FL
  36. Phoenix, AZ
  37. Riverside, CA
  38. Tampa, FL
  39. Miami, FL
  40. Memphis, TN

Livia Gershon is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Livia Gershon at livia@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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