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Image shows a nurse in a hospital attending to a patient. In this study, SmartAsset analyzed data from various sources to identify the best-paying places for nurses.

An increasing number of nurses are trading in traditional hospital-staffing positions for higher-paying temporary jobs with traveling nurse agencies. The difference in pay is often significant. The Associated Press reported in September 2021 that nurses working for traveling nurse agencies make $70 to $90 per hour on average, which is two to three times higher than what most hospitals pay their staff nurses. Though looking into an agency may be a great opportunity for some nurses, not all may be willing to travel on a regular basis. For nurses that are looking to put down roots in one area and want to see where they can earn the most, SmartAsset identified the best-paying places for nurses. 

To do so, we compared 50 of the largest metro areas across four metrics. They include average registered nurse earnings, two-year change in registered nurse pay, registered nurse pay relative to average pay and housing costs as a percentage of average registered nurse pay. For more information on our data and process, read the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • California metro areas rank well. Six of the top 10 metro areas in our study are in the state of California. They include the Sacramento, San Francisco, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Diego metro areas. Across those six areas, registered nurses earn almost $127,500 on average.
  • Registered nurses earn more than twice what the average worker earns in two metro areas. The ratio between average earnings for registered nurses and average earnings for all workers is greater than 2.00 in two areas: Sacramento—Roseville—Arden-Arcade, California and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California. Across all 50 metro areas in the study, nurses earn only 1.42 times more than all workers on average.
  • Pay for nurses has been stagnant in some areas. From 2018 to 2020, average pay for registered nurses rose by 5.96% nationally. This is slightly less than the increase in average pay for all workers, which grew by 8.37% over the same time. However, pay for nurses has not risen in all metro areas. In three of the 50 metro areas in our study, average pay for registered nurses rose by less than 1% between the two years. Those metro areas include Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin; St. Louis, Missouri-Illinois; and Birmingham-Hoover, Alabama.

Image is a map titled 'Top 10 Best-Paying Places for Registered Nurses.'

1. Sacramento—Roseville—Arden-Arcade, CA

Sacramento—Roseville—Arden-Arcade, California ranks in the top 15% of metro areas for all four metrics we considered. It has the third-highest average salary for registered nurses ($134,350) and sixth-highest two-year change in average pay for nurses (11.47%). It ranks first for the two-remaining metrics: nurse pay relative to average pay (2.14) and housing costs as a percentage of nurse pay (13.50%).

2. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

Average pay for nurses in San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California is the highest across all 50 metro areas in our study. At $149,200, average pay for registered nurses in 2020 is almost 16% higher than it was in 2018. Nurses in San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward also earn significantly more than many other workers in the area. The ratio between average pay for nurses and average pay for all workers is 1.82 – fourth-highest in our study.

3. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California ranks in the top 10 metro areas for three of the four metrics we considered. It has the sixth-highest average pay for nurses ($109,830), the second-highest ratio of average salary for nurses to average salary for all workers (2.05) and ninth-lowest housing costs as a percentage of pay for nurses (16.27%).

4. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

In Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada, nurses earn significantly more than the average workers in the metro area. The ratio between average registered nurse earnings and average earnings for all workers is 1.86 – third-highest in our study. Nurses also have high earnings relative to housing costs in the area. Median annual housing costs make up less than 16% of average nurse earnings, a top-10 rate.

5. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California ranks in the top 10% of metro areas for three metrics. It has the fourth-highest average pay for registered nurses ($113,120), fourth-highest two-year change in average pay for nurses (13.20%) and fifth-highest ratio between nurse pay and average pay for all workers (1.78). It falls in the bottom half of areas for the last metric in our study, with housing costs making up almost 19% of nurse pay.

6. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, registered nurses in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California earn $146,870 annually on average. This is the second-highest average pay for registered nurses across all 50 metro areas in our study. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara also has the second-highest two-year change in average pay for nurses (14.20%) and the eighth-highest ratio between average pay for nurses and average pay for all workers (1.57).

7. San Diego-Carlsbad, CA

From 2018 to 2020, average pay for registered nurses in San Diego-Carlsbad, California rose 13.39%, from about $98,400 to roughly $111,600. Compared to other metro areas in our study, this is the third-highest 2018-2020 change in pay for nurses and fifth-highest average 2020 pay for nurses. San Diego-Carlsbad also ranks in the top 10 for its relatively high ratio between the average salary for nurses and the average salary for all workers (1.74).

8. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

Average pay for nurses is 12th-highest overall in Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas, at $84,960.  This is 1.52 times more than average pay for all workers in the metro area. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land ranks in the top 20 metro areas for both remaining metrics: two-year change in average pay for nurses (5.99%) and housing costs as a percentage of average pay for nurses (16.99%).

9. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA

Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Oregon-Washington ranks in the top half of metro areas for all four metrics. It has the seventh-highest average salary for registered nurses ($98,700) and ratio between the average salary for registered nurses and the average salary for all workers (1.60). From 2018 to 2020, average pay for nurses rose by 5.48% – a rate in line with the national average. Finally, we found that median housing costs in the area make up less than 18% of the average salary for nurses.

10. Richmond, VA

Richmond, Virginia rounds out our list of the top 10 best-paying places for nurses. From 2018 to 2020, average pay for registered nurses rose by 11.54% – the fifth-most in our study. Richmond also ranks in the top 20 metro areas for its average nurse pay ($79,430) and the ratio between average nurse pay and average pay for all workers (1.43).

Image is a table titled 'Best-Paying Places for Registered Nurses.'

Data and Methodology

To find the best-paying places for nurses, we looked at data on 50 of the largest U.S. metro areas. We compared those metro areas across four metrics:

  • Average pay for registered nurses. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) May 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics release.
  • Two-year change in average pay for nurses. This is the percentage change in average earnings for registered nurses from 2018 to 2020. Data comes from the BLS’ May 2018 and May 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics releases.
  • Nurse pay relative to average pay. This is the ratio of average registered nurse earnings to average earnings for all workers in the metro area. Data comes from the BLS’ May 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics release.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of nurse pay. This is median annual housing costs divided by average earnings for registered nurses. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey and the BLS’ May 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics release.

We ranked each metro areas in every metric, giving an equal weighting to all four metrics. We then found each metro area’s average ranking and used that average to determine a final score. The metro area with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The metro area with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.

Tips for Putting Your Paycheck to Work

  • Invest early. By planning and saving early you can take advantage of compound interest. Take a look at our investment calculator to see how your investment can grow over time.
  • Be sure to contribute to a retirement account. The type of retirement plan available to nurses varies by their employer and the healthcare system at their work. Popular types of plans for nurses include 401(k)s, 401(a)s and 403(b)s. All three plans are employer-sponsored defined contribution plans in which you divert pre-tax portions of your monthly paycheck into a retirement account. If you already have a plan in place, take a look at our retirement calculator to see how on track you are to reaching your goals.
  • Consider professional help. financial advisor can help you manage your money or investments. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Tempura

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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