Finding a job can be pretty challenging. Many factors that should go into your decision, ranging from the number of opportunities for a job to the highest job satisfaction. What matters for one person won’t necessarily matter for another, so no list meets every need.
Instead, for this guide, we decided to sort the best states for jobs by categories. By figuring out what’s most important to you, you’ll have a much better chance of finding a long-term position that truly makes you happy.
How We Picked Our Categories
Before we get into the top lists, we’d like to take a moment to discuss how we actually settled on the categories we chose. Our main goal was to support a variety of interests and needs. For example, someone with a lot of debt probably wants a high starting salary, while someone with few skills wants a lot of opportunities and little competition for each position they apply for.
We started with a larger list of categories, then whittled it down based on our research and internal discussions.
The categories of best states for jobs we settled on – Job Opportunities, Starting Salaries, Unemployment Rates, Median Income, Time Spent Working, Commute Times, Job Satisfaction, and Overall Ranking – were chosen to fit our main goal. WalletHub was a helpful resource for getting the information we needed.
States With Job Opportunities
States with lots of opportunities include New Hampshire, Colorado, Hawaii, North Dakota, and Nebraska.
This is a good general measure of how good a state is – after all, if they don’t have opportunities, there’s not much point in going there to look for work! It’s important to recognize that different states tend to have different industries. Some places will have more physical labor, others may work with IT, medicine, or something else entirely.
States that are lacking in job opportunities include West Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Alaska.
This doesn’t imply that there are no jobs to be found there, but there are fewer jobs, limited industries, and generally not quite as much choice. All states have some variety (everywhere needs auto repair, grocery services, healthcare, and so on), but these states are the worst for that.
States With High Starting Salaries
States with good pay at the start include Texas, Washington, Georgia, Illinois, and Colorado.
Note that this measure is only for the start of careers, not necessarily your long-term growth. For the best earnings over time, you may have to move to another state once you’ve spent a few years in a decent position. That said, there’s something to be said for working in a state with a high starting salary, especially if you need to pay off student loans and other debts.
What’s not addressed here: Cost of living. For example, Washington’s city of Seattle tends to have high-paying jobs, but it also has atrociously high rents. To actually save money, you may need to live far away and suffer a long commute time. A state with a lower salary – but also a lower cost of living – may be more effective.
States with low starting salaries include Oregon, Maine, Vermont, Alaska, and Hawaii. If you’re looking to really gain some money, these states are best avoided unless you can land an outstanding position. For most people, though, these aren’t a good place to begin your career.
States With Low Unemployment Rates
States with a lot of positions filled include Hawaii, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Vermont.
You may have noticed some similarities with the list of low starting salaries – and that’s an important point to consider. Essentially, states like Hawaii and Vermont are fairly easy to get jobs in, but they don’t necessarily pay that well. Still, having a job is clearly better than not having a job, and if you don’t have a lot of desirable skills, states with low unemployment rates are worth looking at.
States with high unemployment rates include Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Alaska. These states trend towards having fewer jobs (and fewer good jobs) than residents, so there’s a lot of competition for most positions. Personally, we don’t recommend moving there unless you have a lot of money you can live on if it takes time to find a job.
Highest Median Income
States with high median incomes include Utah, Virginia, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Colorado.
This is a measure of the split above and below the average income of a state, and it accounts for outliers like the super-wealthy. A high medium income, calculated annually, is a sign that jobs in the state generally pay well and are worth getting if you can. Note that much like high starting incomes, this doesn’t necessarily account for the cost of living, so you’ll need to keep that in mind.
States with low median incomes include California, Maine, West Virginia, Oregon, and Hawaii. How is California low, you ask? Well, sure, there are a lot of very wealthy people in the Silicon Valley area – but in the state as a whole, many salaries are much lower. This is especially true in Northern California.
Remember, big cities aren’t necessarily representative of states as a whole. Rather, they should be treated as their own distinct places to live.
Least Time Spent Working
States where you aren’t likely to spend as much time on the job include Utah, Oregon, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Michigan.
These states are ideal if you want to have a lot of time to yourself and enjoy life beyond work. Your salary may or may not be high – there’s no direct correlation between time spent working and compensation between states – but if you want money as well, we’d recommend Utah over Oregon.
States where you’ll spend a lot of time working include Louisiana, Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska. These locations tend to have a lot of physically-intensive positions like fishing or fracking for natural gas, both of which have long hours. Of course, if you love spending time at work, this could be an advantage, so we don’t consider long hours to be inherently bad.
States With Low Commute Times
Would you prefer to avoid being stuck in traffic all the time? If so, you may want to look for jobs in South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, or Nebraska.
These states tend to have little traffic and homes that are close to workplaces, so commutes are quick and easy. You’ll note that these states are also lacking in major cities – and as someone who’s lived near Seattle, I can tell you that commutes for big cities are awful. That’s why many people prefer to live close to their job, even if it’s more expensive.
States with long commute times include Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York. The reasons for this vary, ranging from living far from jobs to having to push through traffic to get where you’re going, and some awful commutes aren’t even on this list.
It’s important to note that these are only the average commutes. If you have a high-paying job in New York City, chances are you can afford to live close enough to keep your commute short. Similarly, if you love nature, you might live deep in the mountains of Montana and spend a long time driving through them each day by choice. These aren’t universal commute times, just average ones. There are always exceptions.
States With High Job Satisfaction
Finally, this may be the best metric of all. It doesn’t help to make a fortune if you’re miserable the entire time. What’s the point of working if it can’t bring you happiness? Most people in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Utah are pretty happy with their jobs, making them good first choices regardless of other factors.
In contrast, states with low job satisfaction include Maryland, Louisiana, Florida, Connecticut, and Delaware. You’re not necessarily going to be miserable just because you have a job in these states, but overall, chances are you could be happier elsewhere. On general principles, we recommend avoiding these states.
Best Overall States For Jobs
Now that you’ve seen how different states are better in different categories, which are the best states for jobs overall?
Averaging out all of the factors, the top states for jobs include Washington, Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, and New Hampshire. These states tend to have plenty of opportunities, good pay, reasonable job satisfaction, and commute times that aren’t awful in comparison to what you get.
The worst states overall include Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and West Virginia. These states often have bad commute times, low job satisfaction, poor pay, and few opportunities. Unless you want to go there, you should avoid these states on general principles when looking for a job. Retire there, maybe, if you like the view, but don’t look for jobs there.