We all want to have a job in a field that we love. And we all want to live comfortably doing it. But is that a realistic wish?

Four-year college degrees no longer carry the same weight as they used to. They’re like high school diplomas, with almost everyone now earning them. In fact, 20.2 million students were expected to attend U.S. colleges and universities in fall 2015. With all this competition, lucrative jobs are becoming harder and harder to land. And seasoned employees are feeling the same heat. Some are simply slipping on the rickety rungs of the corporate ladder.

But jobs are out there – you just might be looking in the wrong place. To uncover these gainful careers and their locations, we decided to analyze data from LinkedIn and Indeed. We focused our attention on competitiveness and availability. In the end, we were able to determine the most and least expensive states and the job fields with the most growth and opportunities. Explore the visuals below to see if you’re making the right choices when it comes to your career.

Which States Are Worth Living In?


Here’s the truth: While it’s possible to live like a king in some states, you might just live like a professional pauper in others. A good degree and career can be a major boost toward living your dream life, but it can also be easily offset by high living expenses.

Comparing annual income with the cost of goods and services in the U.S., we found that the most expensive states to live in are New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Texas, and California. Although each of these states is home to growing industries with promising job fields – biomedical, technology, and energy – it takes a higher salary for residents to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

And if we look closely at the most expensive state – New York – New York City may be skewing the results for the state population. On top of having one of the highest income taxes in the country, the total cost of living in NYC is at least 68.8 percent higher than the national average. To put it into perspective, the state capital, Albany, costs consumers about 12 percent less (not accounting for rent or a mortgage).

On the other end of the spectrum is Mississippi, which has the lowest cost of living – 10.9 percent lower than the national average. According to the Tax Foundation, Mississippi is the most affordable state in the country because of a compensation differential. With low nominal incomes come lower costs of living. In fact, what you would get for $100 in some states gets you about $115 worth of goods in Mississippi.

The Value of a Good Job in a Good State

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We looked at the most and least expensive states across the U.S., but what do their job markets look like? Examining the number of available jobs in each state (x-axis) with their degrees-to-job ratio (y-axis), we were able to come up with a pretty telling visual. If you’re worried about finding a job within your degree field, this scatter plot should point you in the right direction.

Compared with other states, Colorado may have the best job market overall. With its high-scoring available jobs per capita and relatively low competition, graduates won’t have too much trouble landing a decent job here. In particular, Denver boasts a strong and diverse economy in many industries, such as bioscience, financial services, health care, and telecommunications.

However, graduates might want to think carefully about moving to Idaho, which scored extremely low in available jobs per capita and relatively high in competition.

If we just consider the state with the most available jobs per capita, Massachusetts leads the way. But with 114 higher education institutions and out-of-state students flocking there to attend school, competition here is a little higher.

And North Dakota has a much lower rate of job competitiveness, probably because there are only 30 colleges and universities located in the state. It does, however, have a slightly lower-than-average number of available jobs per capita.

Lesson learned: Just because a state has more jobs per capita doesn’t mean you’ll have less competition in your industry.

So Where’s the Work?


Recent college graduates are experiencing a 7.2 percent unemployment rate. And an even greater percentage (14.9) are underemployed. Is the job market really that bleak? According to our findings, available careers are out there – you just might have to look in another field.

For example, your best bet at landing a job would be in the communications field. With nearly 1.6 million positions currently available, occupations in this sector are expected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024. And according to PayScale, the median salaries for top communications positions – with 10 or more years of experience – range from $72,400 to $140,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, on the other hand, found that the median annual salary for all communications positions was $53,530 in 2015.

The next career field to possibly offer the most employment is support, which has close to 1.5 million available jobs. Support encompasses call centers and help-desk services.

Conversely, a career in real estate may not be the path to follow. This field only has around 53,000 available jobs, followed by purchasing, which has just over 72,000 open positions.

Which Job Fields Are the Least Competitive?


If you’re still deciding on a degree, you may want to consider how many other people are following the same career path. Although the job situation is the best it’s been since before the recession, those with degrees still have a competitive market to contend with.

Finance may be the hardest field to enter successfully. With fewer than 0.2 jobs for every student and graduate, entry-level finance positions are few and far between – and for good reason. Job security in the industry has been relatively stable in the past year. Whereas the national unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in 2015, the finance industry only experienced an unemployment rate of 2.5 percent. And the pay is decent. A finance major can expect to earn a starting salary of $51,900.

The least competitive field is purchasing, which offers over 1.5 jobs for every graduate. Although this field has very few open positions – which might have to do with the merging of supply chains and supply management – there aren’t as many candidates vying for these positions. There is also a belief that this field is more of an occupation and less of a profession, which might have something to do with it. Recent graduates may feel that it’s beneath them or in an adverse direction to their pursuits. Currently, employment for buyers and purchasing agents is only expected to increase 2 percent by 2024, and the median annual wage is $59,620.

Moving and Changing Careers for a Better Future

Even though it’s been eight years, the U.S. is still recovering from the 2008 recession. And unfortunately, this is causing a lot of uncertainty when it comes to finding a good job. But some things can be done that make a difference – like relocating or changing a career field.

It might be more financially sound to consider a state with a lower cost of living or less competition, such as Mississippi or Colorado. Or you could choose a field with the most available jobs, such as communications. Even considering changing to a field with the least amount of competition – like purchasing – could help you out over time.


For the purposes of this study, available jobs were identified by career fields (taken from Indeed.com open job positions). The number of people were identified with a professional education by matching fields of study (taken from LinkedIn.com profile pages) of both people in the industry (alumni) as well as current students obtaining their degree. Because college graduates tend to live in the state they graduate from, locations for higher education schools were the basis for each person’s state of residence used to determine job field competitiveness.


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