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U.S. Cities With the Highest Cost-of-Living Adjusted Salaries


U.S. Cities With the Highest Cost-of-Living Adjusted Salaries

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a surge in geographic mobility. According to Pew Research Center, 22 percent of adults in the U.S. have relocated during the pandemic or know someone who did. Interestingly, this reverses a longstanding trend in which Americans were staying put.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that prior to COVID-19, Americans were moving a lot less. In 1981, 3.4 percent of Americans moved to a different county within the same state while only 2.8 percent moved to a different state entirely. By 2019, those percentages dropped to 2.1 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. The share of Americans moving across county lines has remained at a relatively flat, low level since 2010.

As people think about where to move during COVID-19 and beyond, job prospects and earning potential will be top of mind. Median earnings for full-time workers in the U.S. was $50,078 in 2019, a 20.6 percent increase since 2010 in nominal dollars. However, the relative cost of living in a given area impacts purchasing power and should be an important factor when weighing employment opportunities. There is significant regional variation in cost-of-living adjusted earnings across the U.S., with residents in the Northeast and Midwest generally faring better than those in the South or West. For example, median adjusted earnings range from a low of $41,063 in Florida to a high of $58,029 in Massachusetts.

To find which metropolitan areas offer the greatest purchasing power, researchers at Smartest Dollar calculated cost-of-living adjusted earnings using data for full-time workers from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. To improve relevance, metros were grouped into the following categories based on population: small (100,000–349,999), midsize (350,000–999,999), and large (1,000,000 or more).

Similar to the statewide trends, the small and midsize metros offering the highest adjusted earnings are concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast. Unlike the state-level trends, the large metros with the best pay are scattered throughout the country, with similar levels of representation in the Northeast, West, and Midwest.

Here are the large metropolitan areas with the highest cost-of-living adjusted earnings.






 Median earnings for full-time workers (adjusted)


Median earnings for full-time workers (unadjusted)


Percentage change since 2010 (unadjusted)


Cost of living (compared to national average)

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1 $63,727 $82,463 30.7% +29.4%
Hartford-East Hartford-Middletown, CT 2 $60,357 $61,625 18.1% +2.1%
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 3 $59,993 $70,672 17.0% +17.8%
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 4 $59,046 $67,430 24.3% +14.2%
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 5 $58,573 $66,129 28.2% +12.9%
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 6 $58,512 $60,033 21.3% +2.6%
San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA 7 $58,331 $76,764 31.5% +31.6%
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 8 $57,575 $61,432 20.5% +6.7%
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 9 $57,222 $51,500 19.8% -10.0%
Raleigh-Cary, NC 10 $56,934 $54,998 19.7% -3.4%
St. Louis, MO-IL 11 $56,624 $51,528 21.8% -9.0%
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 12 $55,894 $58,633 23.6% +4.9%
Cleveland-Elyria, OH 13 $55,892 $50,359 18.8% -9.9%
Pittsburgh, PA 14 $55,798 $51,948 24.5% -6.9%
Columbus, OH 15 $55,530 $51,032 19.2% -8.1%
United States $50,078 $50,078 20.6% N/A


For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Smartest Dollar’s website:

This article originally appeared on Smartest Dollar’s website. Republished with permission.