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SmartAsset: Best Places for Career Opportunities - 2022 Edition

Despite rising inflation and recent stock market instability, it’s still a job seeker’s market. There are roughly 11 million job openings available nationwide as of May 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For the same month, there were 6.5 million hires. Data from June 2022 shows a 4% increase in the percentage of people who voluntarily left their jobs compared with one year ago.

With rising costs of living and a nationwide climate that is responding to the pandemic’s impact, some markets are better for those seeking new opportunities or looking to grow their careers. We sought to understand where job seekers have the best access to career opportunities.

To do this, SmartAsset looked at data for the largest 200 metro areas across nine metrics on topics such as employment, earnings, housing costs and access to career guidance. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, read the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s third study on the best places for career opportunities. Check out the previous version here.

Key Findings

  • Midwestern metro areas make up half of the top 10. Specifically, two Indiana metro areas (Lafayette-West Lafayette and Fort Wayne), two Ohio metro areas (Dayton and Toledo) and one Iowa metro area (Cedar Rapids) placed in the top 10. Job opportunities in these areas are diverse and median annual housing costs are relatively low.
  • In some areas, average earnings for professionals can increase by more than 20% throughout their career. The Champaign-Urbana, Illinois metro area ranks highest for this metric at 41%. More specifically, in this metro area, workers between the ages of 25 and 44 earn $57,437, while those aged 45 to 64 earn $81,300. Income growth between these two age groups of workers exceeds 20% in 23 additional metro areas that we studied.
  • On average, across the study, median earnings rose by 8% between 2019 and 2021. The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California metro area has the highest two-year earnings change (21.83%). Of the 200 metro areas in this study, three metro areas experienced a decline in earnings: two in Connecticut and one in Texas.

1. Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN

Like the previous edition of this study, the No. 1 ranking metro area is Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana. This metro area has the eighth-highest income growth between professionals aged 25 to 44 and those aged 45 to 64, at almost 25%. For workers seeking professional guidance, Lafayette-West Lafayette also has the fourth-highest number of career counselors (roughly five for every 1,000 workers).

2. Huntsville, AL

Huntsville, Alabama ranks in the top 10 metro areas for two metrics. It has the fifth-lowest May 2022 unemployment rate (1.9%) and ranks seventh-highest for income growth between professionals aged 25 to 44 and those aged 45 to 64 (25.85%). Additionally, overall median earnings for workers in the metro area increased by roughly 15% over a two-year period ending in 2021.

3. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY

According to BLS data, median earnings in the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, New York metro area stand at $46,410 as of 2021. This is about 17% higher than they were in 2019, marking the fifth-highest two-year change in earnings. This New York metro area also ranks well for its number of post-secondary teachers and career counselors relative to total workers (24.83 and 2.94 per 1,000 workers, respectively).

4. Tuscaloosa, AL

Tuscaloosa, Alabama ranks in the top fifth of metro areas for its May 2022 unemployment rate (2.5%) and one-year change in total employment (4.10%). Additionally, Tuscaloosa has the 27th-lowest annual housing costs ($10,152). For professional guidance, workers have access to roughly three career counselors for every 1,000 workers (ranking 24th-highest).

5. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA

From 2019 to 2021, average earnings in Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, Georgia rose by 14.50%, the 24th-highest increase in our study. Overall employment in the area has increased by 6.11% between May 2021 and May 2022 (eighth-highest) and the unemployment rate for May 2022 is 2.6% (43rd-lowest).

6. Cedar Rapids, IA

Cedar Rapids, Iowa has the 45th-highest median earnings (nearly $47,000), which is a 15.98% increase since 2019. Income growth between workers aged 25 to 44 and those aged 45 to 64 is the 23rd-highest across all metro areas in this study (20.64%). This metro area also ties for the 43rd-lowest May 2022 unemployment rate, at 2.6%.

7. Dayton, OH

Dayton, Ohio ranks well for its job diversity and two-year earnings change. Using the Shannon index to rank metro areas, a higher value suggests more job diversity in the area. For this metric, Dayton ranks 23rd-best, meaning that workers have access to a wide variety of career paths to choose from. In terms of income, Dayton has the 30th-highest two-year earnings growth (14.18%).

8. Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City, Utah metro area ranks best on employment and earnings metrics. Since 2019, the median earnings have increased by 16.90% over a two-year period to $46,900 which is the sixth-highest increase across all metro areas in this study. Salt Lake City also has the 15th-lowest unemployment rate for May 2022 (2.2%).

9. Fort Wayne, IN

The Fort Wayne, Indiana metro area has the fifth-best job diversity score, which measures the variety of industries available in the area. The unemployment rate in Fort Wayne is the 23rd-lowest across the study (2.3%). For those employed, the median earnings are $38,050 and housing costs are roughly $9,700 annually (17th-lowest).

10. Toledo, OH

Annual housing costs (roughly $10,000) in Toledo, Ohio rank as the 26th-lowest of the cities included in the study. The Toledo area also has the 16th-highest job diversity score (2.65), meaning there is a higher variety of available industries for workers. Income growth between professionals aged 25 to 44 and those aged 45 to 64 is 18.20%, ranking 39th-highest.

Data and Methodology

To find the best places for career opportunities, SmartAsset analyzed data for 200 of the largest U.S. metro areas across the following nine metrics:

  • May 2022 unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • One-year change in total employment. This is the percentage change in total employment between May 2021 and May 2022. Data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Median earnings. This is the annual median earnings of all workers. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2021.
  • Income growth over career. This is the percentage change in median income for households where the head of household was between the ages of 25 and 44 compared to those where the head of household was between 54 and 64. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Two-year earnings change. This is the percentage change in individual earnings over a two-year period. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2019 and 2021.
  • Annual median housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Number of career counselors per 1,000 workers. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2021.
  • Number of post-secondary teachers per 1,000 workers. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2021.
  • Job diversity. This measures the variety of industries available in a city. We used the Shannon index to calculate this figure. A higher number indicates a more diverse job market. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.

We ranked each metro area in every metric, giving an equal weighting to all but four metrics: two-year earnings change from 2019 to 2021, income growth over career, number of career counselors and number of post-secondary teachers per 1,000 workers, each of which was given a half weight.

We then found each metro area’s average ranking. The metro area with the best average ranking places first in our study while the area with the lowest average ranking places last.

Tips for Job Seekers

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

Photo credit: ©iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs

Anja Solum Anja Solum is a data journalist at SmartAsset covering a variety of personal finance topics, including retirement and debt management. Before joining SmartAsset, she worked on both agency and in-house content marketing teams where she developed her love for data analysis and visualization. In her free time, she nurtures a passion for gaming, a recent addiction to anime & KDramas, and a mischievous labrador retriever. A bit of a nomad, she’s lived in Norway, Jamaica, and Denmark in addition to the U.S. but now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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