Best Job Markets – 2023 Study
Jaclyn DeJohn | SEPT 21, 2023
With interest rates up, businesses are more constrained than usual with less access to liquidity. Sometimes, these restrictions result in layoffs, pay cuts and more competitive job markets. In general, a good job market is one where a worker can make a comfortable and sustainable living, feel confident about their job security and enjoy a suitable work-life balance with important amenities like health insurance. Past performance in these areas – while not a guarantee of future results – can help inform job seekers on the probability of success they may find within a given job market.
To find the best places for those looking for the best of all worlds in the job market, SmartAsset examined employment, income, commute, benefits and affordability data for 340 of the largest U.S. cities.
- Unemployment was lowest in these cities. Sioux Falls, SD had the lowest unemployment at about 1.8%. Carmel, IN (2.1%); Olathe, KS (2.1%); Abilene, TX (2.2%); Nampa, ID (2.6%); Boise, ID (2.8%); Lincoln, NE (2.8%); and Columbia, MD (2.9%) also had particularly low unemployment.
- Almost half the workforce was remote in these cities. The highest proportion of people working from home were in Arlington, VA (48.0%); Fremont, CA (45.8%); Bellevue, WA (44.9%); Washington, D.C. (44.2%); and Seattle, WA (43.6%). The smallest remote segments were in California (Santa Maria, 3.7%, and Salinas, 3.8%) and Texas (Odessa, 4.2%, and Beaumont, 4.2%).
- 90% of workers in Santa Clara, CA get health insurance through their employer – more than in any other city. This was more than in any other city. Arlington, VA (88.8%); Fremont, CA (87.8%); Cambridge, MA (87.4%) and Sunnyvale, CA (86.6%) also had particularly high rates of private health insurance for workers. This figure was as low as 45.7% in Paterson, NJ.
- Income rose more than 30% in these California cities. Between 2019 and 2021, Escondido (38.8%), Hesperia (35.2%) and San Bernardino (31.4%) saw median incomes rise dramatically. However, incomes decreased in some cities, including in The Woodlands, TX (-17.8%); Midland, TX (-15.2%); and San Mateo, CA (13.0%).
- New York City ranked 334th, while San Francisco ranked 180th. Incomes decreased in both cities between 2019 and 2021, and workers had particularly long commutes. Unemployment was also high: 11.76% in New York and 8.4% in San Francisco.
Top 10 Best Job Markets
- Huntsville, AL
Huntsville is fairly inexpensive to live in based on average job pay. On average, housing costs make up only 15.9% of the $70,757 annual median salary. Unemployment was 3.9%, compared to an average of 6.9% across all cities. The average commute time is 19.2 minutes, although 21.1% of the workforce here was remote. Just over 82% of workers get health insurance through their jobs, and the median income grew 30% between 2019 and 2021.
- Sioux Falls, SD
Unemployment in Sioux Falls was only 1.8%, lowest studywide. The median income was slightly above average at $73,273, of which 16.9% generally goes to housing costs. Only 13.6% of the workforce works from home here, but the commute time for others is only 16.7 minutes. Over two years, workers saw a 20% increase in the median income, and 78% got health insurance through their employer.
- Cary, NC
Cary was most affordable studywide, when comparing the median income to median housing costs (15.2% of a $123,857 income). Unemployment here was a bit on the higher side at 5.3%, which tends to be the trend for cities with higher median incomes. More than 41% of the workforce here was remote, and 86% of the workforce had private health insurance. Over two years, income grew by roughly 16.5%.
- Fargo, ND
Despite having the lowest median income of the top 10 at $59,089, housing affordability is still exceptional in Fargo, with only 17.9% of that income going toward housing costs. Unemployment was 4.2%, 83% of workers got health insurance through their employer and the average commute time was 17.7 minutes. Meanwhile, just over 14% of the workforce was remote.
- Olathe, KS
Housing is affordable in Olathe, as 17.6% of the $99,631 median income goes toward housing costs. Unemployment was only 2.1% in Olathe, while the average commute was 19.8 minutes. Just over 76% of the population commutes to work, with the rest working remotely. Just under 82% of workers got health insurance from their employer. However, wage growth was fairly low here compared to the rest of the top 10, at 5.7%.
- Chandler, AZ
Just under 20% of the $94,613 median income in Chandler goes to housing costs. Unemployment was 3.3% in 2021, while income grew by 13% over two years. While 27.8% of the workforce was remote, the remainder had a 22.4-minute commute time.
- Murfreesboro, TN
The income-to-housing-affordability ratio came in at 19.2% for Murfreesboro, where the typical income was $77,584. Median income increased by 13.5% between 2019 and 2021. About 17.8% of the workforce worked from home, while others had a 24.3-minute commute on average. Across all workers, 83.8% had health insurance through their employer, and unemployment was 4.2%.
- Lincoln, NE
Lincoln had low unemployment at 2.8%, and affordable housing costs relative to the median income at 19.3% of $62,294. The average commute was only 18.4 minutes long, while a relatively low percentage of the workforce worked remotely (13.2%). More than 81% of employees got their health insurance through work. However, Lincoln had fairly low income growth at just 5.2%.
- Bellevue, WA
While Bellevue had the highest unemployment rate of the top 10 at 5.8%, the median income was also highest at $144,274 – fourth-most studywide. Housing payments accounted for only 18.5% of the median income, and nearly 45% of the workforce worked from home. The other portion had a 22.1-minute commute. Income grew by just over 13% in two years, and 84.7% of workers had employer-sponsored health insurance.
- Arlington, VA
Arlington had the highest proportion of remote workers studywide at 48%. The other half of the workforce had an average commute of 22.2 minutes. At 88.8%, Arlington also had a particularly high rate of workers getting health insurance through their job. However, Arlington also had the lowest wage growth among the top 10 at 4.9%. Still, the median income was relatively high at $125,651, of which 20.7% typically goes toward housing.
Data and Methodology
Cities with 100,000 or greater population for which data was available were considered. All data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2021. Five main categories evaluating different aspects of a city’s job market were considered:
- Unemployment rate: Average for the year 2021.
- Median income to housing payment ratio: Median housing payments for 2021 were compared to the median income of the same year to gauge the relative quality of local incomes.
- Commute time: For workers not working from home, this measures the median minutes spent in transit to work.
- Healthcare: The percent of workers who have private health insurance, i.e. health insurance through their employer.
- Income growth: This is the two-year growth in median income between 2019 and 2021.
Tips for Job Seekers
- Use data to inform your career choices. In some cases, leaving your job might yield a higher income. A graduate degree may not earn you as much as you think it does in some places, and wage growth varies from place to place. Do your research to maximize your opportunities.
- Work with a professional. A job change can trigger important financial decisions such as whether to roll over an existing 401(k) to an IRA or choosing the right health care benefits. A financial advisor can help you manage the financial impact. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you.
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