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Report: These Are the Best-Paying Cities for Graduates

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My title targets both high school and college graduates. I thought this information would be valuable even for those not planning on a traditional college education. High schoolers who complete specialized technical or vocational training or even the military likely would want to know where they stand the best chances of landing a well-paying job. Of course, that also goes without saying for college graduates from four-year and graduate programs.


I received a report called The 10 Best Paying Cities for Young People. According to data from the US Census Bureau, people under age 25 earn significantly less than older, more experienced workers. That makes obvious sense. Nationwide, workers under age 25 earn a median salary of $25,700, roughly half of what workers over age 35 make.

To find the best-paying metro areas for young people, researchers at AutoInsurance.org analyzed the latest earnings data from the US Census Bureau. Median earnings for each metro region were adjusted up or down based on the relative cost of living in that metro to get a comparable metric of purchasing power across locations. In highly expensive cities, like New York, cost-of-living adjusted earnings are lower than actuals. In highly affordable cities, such as Knoxville, cost-of-living adjusted earnings are increased.

Millennials Comprise Largest Generation in US Labor Force

For some perspective, keep in mind that millennials are now the largest generation in the US labor force, while the oldest members of Gen Z (post-millennials) have just reached working age. This influx of younger generations into the workforce has sparked new employment trends, especially when it comes to worker mobility.

Luckily for this new wave of workers, it's a job seeker's market. According to the US Census Bureau, the unemployment rate among young people has been steadily declining since 2010, the height of the Great Recession. Among 16- to 24-year-olds, the unemployment rate for the second quarter of 2019 was 8.3 percent (down from 19 percent at the end of 2009). With the unemployment rate for young adults at a historic low, now is a great time to land a new job.

Check out the Methodology Used in the Report

The report comments on its methodology:

Although big cities have historically attracted droves of recent graduates, the high costs of living in places like New York City, Washington DC, and San Francisco make it hard for young people to afford rent while also paying off student loans and enjoying city life. Fortunately, there are alternatives with robust job markets, competitive wages, and lower living costs.

To find the best-paying metro areas for young people, researchers at AutoInsurance.org analyzed the latest earnings data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Median earnings for each metro were adjusted up or down based on the relative cost of living in that metro in order to get a comparable metric of purchasing power across locations. In highly expensive cities, like New York, cost-of-living adjusted earnings are lower than actuals; whereas, in highly affordable cities, such as Knoxville, cost-of-living adjusted earnings are boosted up.

Only metro areas with over 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

- Small metros: 100,000-350,000

- Midsize metros: 350,000-1,000,000

- Large: more than 1,000,000

Overall, cities in the Midwest tend to pay young workers the highest wages when taking cost of living into account

Check out the Winning Cities

Here, then, are the US metro areas with the highest adjusted median earnings for full-time workers under the age of 25 in small and midsize metro areas:

Here are the profiles of three of the Top 10 best-paying large metros for young people:

#10 – Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Conn.

Median earnings for full-time workers under 25 (adjusted): $29,470

Median earnings for full-time workers under 25 (unadjusted): $30,000

Median earnings for all full-time workers (unadjusted): $57,000

Proportion of population under 25: 31.5%

Cost of living: 2% above average

Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, is also known as the "Insurance Capital of the World." Insurance giant Aetna is headquartered there while a number of other big insurance companies, including Prudential Financial, Lincoln National Corporation, and Travelers, also have operations in Hartford.

Plus, a new technology innovation hub — focusing on insurance, healthcare, and manufacturing — opened recently in Hartford that is expected to create 1,000 new jobs.

For entertainment, Hartford offers residents a plethora of activities such as the Connecticut Science Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and sporting events at the XL Center. Hartford is also conveniently located about two hours away from other large Northeast cities like New York and Boston.

#5 – Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis.

Median earnings for full-time workers under 25 (adjusted): $30,366

Median earnings for full-time workers under 25 (unadjusted): $29,000

Median earnings for all full-time workers (unadjusted): $50,000

Proportion of population under 25: 33.7%

Cost of living: 5% below average

A relatively low cost of living combined with plenty of high-earning jobs make Milwaukee an attractive place for young people to call home. Companies headquartered in the Milwaukee metro area include A.O. Smith, Harley-Davidson, and Kohl's Department Stores.

While Milwaukee residents must brave the long, cold winters, they also embrace their summers, celebrating nearly every summer weekend with festivals and cultural events. Young Milwaukeeans can also take advantage of sailing, windsurfing, and kite surfing on Lake Michigan.

#3 – Pittsburgh, Pa.

Median earnings for full-time workers under 25 (adjusted): $30,851

Median earnings for full-time workers under 25 (unadjusted): $29,000

Median earnings for all full-time workers (unadjusted): $50,000

Proportion of population under 25: 28.7%

Cost of living: 6% below average

Pittsburgh boasts a cost of living that is 6 percent below the national average. Once known for coal and steel, the area's economy is now driven by the technology, health care, finance, and education sectors. Young adults may first come to the area to attend one of several prominent universities (including the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon), but well-paying jobs should entice many to stay and call Pittsburgh their permanent home. Outside of the office, Pittsburgh residents can explore the city's many bridges, river sports, and museums.

For the full lists of large (53), midsize (83), and small (122) cities, plus a comprehensive, cumulative listing (259), please read the entire report. It's a great tool for long-range exploration and planning.