Best Cities in Each State to Start a Career

By Amanda Postma - Jun. 26, 2020

Find a Job You Really Want In

If you’re fresh out of college, you probably don’t want to make any rash decisions about your career.

After all, where you start your career can be the difference between making bank and 3 roommates in a crummy apartment. But on the other hand, your parents’ nagging about you getting a job has gotten so bad that you need to find one now. Don’t worry; we’ve got your back.

Out of several hundred cities, we’ve found the cities with the biggest paychecks, lowest rent, and the most jobs.

The Top 10 Cities

  1. Fargo, North Dakota
  2. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  3. Salt Lake City, Utah
  4. Lincoln, Nebraska
  5. Madison, Wisconsin
  6. Raleigh, North Carolina
  7. Charleston, South Carolina
  8. Boise City, Idaho
  9. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  10. Nashville, Tennessee

Based on our research, you can get your career off on the right foot in any one of these cities. You can use this list to make smart decisions, not rash ones. If you’re looking for a more broad list of cities, or simply just looking for a specific city’s rank, be sure to check out the complete table below. Be sure to check out


We looked at over 200 cities and ranked them on the following areas:

  • Median Income
  • Average rent
  • Unemployment

We first examined the median income to find the cities where young professionals can expect to bring home the biggest paychecks. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy creature comforts and pay off hefty student loans which goes a long way.

However, big paychecks can come with big bills- so next we looked at average rent costs. For those just graduating college and moving to jump-start their careers, it can be a struggle to scrape together first month’s rent, last, and a security deposit. That first paycheck may not make it into their bank account for a month! The smaller the monthly rent, the better.

We then looked at average unemployment. If that first job doesn’t end up being a dream job, getting your next job is easier when you’re in a city with a strong labor market.
Finally, we identified the best city in each state according to these categories. All of our data came from the most recent Census ACS.

1. Fargo, North Dakota


Individual Median Income: $38,525
Unemployment: 2.5
Rent: $818

Not much has changed here. Fargo has been at the top of this list for a while, and for good reason, too. The city offers young persons a top-notch starting salary of $38,525 while keeping the rent prices low. In fact, the average $818 is one of the lowest rent averages in the U.S.

2. Sioux Falls, South Dakota


Individual Median Income: $35,942
Unemployment: 2.1
Rent: $811

Sioux Falls isn’t far behind when it comes to finding the best cities in each state to start a career. Coming in at second is fitting as the city’s 2.1% unemployment rate and an average $811 rent are some of the lowest in the country. So not only are you less likely to be unemployed, but you also won’t have to worry much about paying rent. Shopping spree, anyone?

3. Salt Lake City, Utah

Source: |CC BY-SA 3.0

Individual Median Income: $43,458
Unemployment: 2.0
Rent: $1,001

Coming in at third, Salt Lake City has the seventh-lowest unemployment rate out of all the cities in the U.S. Sitting at 2%, the chances of you finding a career here are looking really good. The city’s average median salary of $43,458 sounds pretty good, too, until you look at those rental rates. With an average of $1,001, a good portion of your paycheck will go straight to your landlord.

4. Lincoln, Nebraska


Individual Median Income: $37,481
Unemployment: 2.4
Rent: $843

Nebraska makes the list at No. 4 with the city of Lincoln. The city boasts low average rent rates with $843, which is great because you probably won’t be making a whole lot of money here anyway. Despite only averaging a salary of $37,481, the career opportunities are plentiful in Lincoln. It’s definitely a place that’s worth considering a glance-over when starting your career.

5. Madison, Wisconsin


Source: Dori|GFDL

Individual Median Income: $45,382
Unemployment: 1.4
Rent: $1,125

Madison, Wisconsin tops the chart at No. 5, thanks to the plethora of career opportunities that are available there. With an unemployment rate of 1.4, Madison has the second-lowest rate compared to other cities in the U.S. Not only will it be super easy for you to find a job here, but you also won’t be laid off anytime soon.

6. Raleigh, North Carolina


Individual Median Income: $47,701
Unemployment: 2.3
Rent: $1,131

With a low unemployment rate and high average salary, young professionals should consider Raleigh, North Carolina, when they’re just starting out. The city is a great place to start a career with only 2.3% unemployed and most people averaging $47,701 a year. As a young professional, you’d probably be making more than your friends here.

7. Charleston, South Carolina


Individual Median Income: $56,121
Unemployment: 2.2
Rent: $1,288

Charleston, South Carolina, earns its title of being seventh on this list. Who knew you could live near a beach and earn a lot of money? With the average individual earning $56,121, Charleston is great for people who want to start a savings account right out of college. Imagine being able to contribute to a savings account while paying off your college loans. Life’s a breeze when you’re at the beach.

8. Boise City, Idaho

Individual Median Income: $38,078
Unemployment: 2.2
Rent: $941

The No. 8 spot is taken by none other than Boise City, Idaho. The city’s 2.2 unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the country. At that rate, you won’t need any luck finding your first job. It’ll be practically handed to you on a silver platter.

9. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Individual Median Income: $37,965
Unemployment: 2.5
Rent: $872

As one of the best cities to start your career, Oklahoma City keeps its unemployment rate and average rent rate down low. In fact, if those two rates could do the limbo they would beat out most of the competition with how low they could go. With only a 2.5% unemployment rate and $872 for rent, the city has plenty of career opportunities to go around while ensuring the residents don’t go broke.

10. Nashville, Tennessee


Individual Median Income: $48,807
Unemployment: 2.5
Rent: $1,117

Nashville is more than just a country singer’s dream, and that’s why it comes in the top 10 of being a great place to start your career. The average salary of $48,807 will leave you narrowing your search to careers in Nashville. On top of having one of the highest average salaries, the city also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S.

Summary of the Best Cities in Each State to Start a Career

There are several factors that you need to consider when you’re looking to start a career, including the average salary, unemployment rate and average monthly rent. You want to make sure you’re going to have enough money to pay for rent, while also being able to pay for groceries. Plus you need to make sure that there are plenty of career opportunities. These top 10 cities should give you a good idea of where you need to be at the beginning of your career.


State City Individual Median Income Unemployment Rent
Alabama Huntsville $35,503 3 $854
Alaska Anchorage $53,789 3 $1,238
Arizona Scottsdale $60,518 2 $1,363
Arkansas Little Rock $33,938 3 $819
California Torrance $56,214 2 $1,746
Colorado Denver $54,571 2 $1,330
Connecticut Stamford $57,554 4 $1,780
Delaware Wilmington $31,526 5 $974
Florida Cape Coral $38,978 2 $1,308
Georgia Athens-Clarke $29,956 3 $843
Hawaii Honolulu $42,265 2 $1,472
Idaho Boise City $38,078 2 $941
Illinois Naperville $56,089 2 $1,463
Indiana Fort Wayne $32,667 3 $758
Iowa Des Moines $36,273 3 $837
Kansas Wichita $32,337 3 $772
Kentucky Lexington-Fayette $36,825 3 $915
Louisiana Metairie $34,532 2 $919
Maine Portland $34,041 2 $1,079
Maryland Baltimore $38,052 4 $1,057
Massachusetts Cambridge $77,382 2 $2,350
Michigan Ann Arbor $38,256 3 $1,282
Minnesota St. Paul $41,425 3 $947
Mississippi Jackson $27,797 6 $831
Missouri Independence $34,885 2 $866
Montana Billings $32,434 2 $895
Nebraska Lincoln $37,481 2 $843
Nevada Reno $42,106 2 $1,068
New Hampshire Concord $36,318 2 $1,052
New Jersey Jersey City $54,666 3 $1,470
New Mexico Albuquerque $33,240 3 $870
New York Buffalo $30,828 3 $792
North Carolina Raleigh $47,701 2 $1,131
North Dakota Fargo $38,525 2 $818
Ohio Columbus $41,000 3 $954
Oklahoma Oklahoma City $37,965 2 $872
Oregon Portland $49,487 2 $1,297
Pennsylvania Pittsburgh $32,122 2 $917
Rhode Island Providence $32,577 4 $977
South Carolina Charleston $56,121 2 $1,288
South Dakota Sioux Falls $35,942 2 $811
Tennessee Nashville-Davidson $48,807 2 $1,117
Texas Frisco $60,397 2 $1,494
Utah Salt Lake City $43,458 2 $1,001
Vermont Burlington $25,234 2 $1,177
Virginia Arlington $96,802 1 $1,924
Washington Bellevue $77,026 2 $2,051
Wisconsin Madison $45,382 1 $1,125
Wyoming Casper $35,799 2 $859

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Amanda Postma

Amanda Postma is a writer for the Zippia Career Advice blog with a focus on creating entertaining content to help you through your job search. She received her BA from the University Of Missouri-Columbia.

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