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Best places to be a nurse

Nursing is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But in some places that growth is higher than in others. Additionally a nurse’s salary stretches further in some places than others. Below, SmartAsset analyzes data on earnings, housing affordability and job growth to find the best places to be a nurse.

Buying a house? Check out the latest mortgage rates here.

In order to find the best places for nurses, we analyzed data on six metrics. We looked at data for 1-year employment growth, 5-year employment growth, 1-year income growth, 5-year income growth, the percent of the workforce who are nurses and the income after housing for nurses. Check out our data and methodology below to see where we got out data and how we put it together.

This is SmartAsset’s third annual study of the best places to be a nurse. Read the 2016 study here.

Key Findings

  • Nursing is a great option – The main trend across this study is that nursing is a good long-term career option. Even toward the bottom of our rankings we saw rising incomes for nurses and a growing number of jobs.
  • High-paying California – Nurses who work in the Golden State can earn almost six figures on average, depending on which metro they’re located in. California has three metros in our top 10 and across them nurses have an income just short of $80,000 after average housing costs.

best places to be a nurse

1. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Oregon-Washington

This metro area, which straddles the Washington-Oregon border, is a great place to be a nurse. According to our data, only about 2.2% of all workers in this metro area are nurses, a relatively low score. But for the people who are nurses, things are looking up. From 2011 to 2016 to the number of nurses in the area shot up over 26% and just from 2015 to 2016 the number of nurses grew 11.8%.

While the growing number of nurses is a good sign for job security, incomes are also important. According to our data, nurses earn $71,600 in income after accounting for average housing costs. In that metric this metro ranks 10th.

2. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario ranks second. From 2011 to 2016, nurses here received an average raise of just under 19%. That means nurses in only three metro areas in our study saw their incomes rise faster over that time period.

Another plus is that most of that income does not go to housing. Our data suggests that on average nurses should have about $70,000 in income after housing costs. Nurses here can get a head start on saving for retirement with their extra funds.

3. Lubbock, Texas

Lubbock is home to a sizable number of nurses. According to our data, about 4% of the workforce, or around 5,600 people, work as nurses. In that metric Lubbock ranks sixth. We may yet see that number rise as the number of nurses in the area is also sharply increasing. From 2011 to 2016, the number of nurses in the area grew by over 15%.

Unfortunately Lubbock nurses have the second-lowest median income after housing costs in the top 10. Texas’ high property tax rates may play a role in that.

4. Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi has shot onto the nursing scene in recent years. Our data shows that from 2015 to 2016, there was a 15% growth in the number of nurses.

Nurses here may not get paid as much as their colleagues in California, but they do benefit from lower income tax rates. Our data shows that after paying for housing, including costs like property taxes, nurses in Corpus Christi have about $56,000 in average income.

5. Santa Rosa-Petaluma, California

Nurses in Santa Rosa-Petaluma earn $77,500 in income after housing costs, on average. That’s the eighth-highest in this study. There are some hints that this income figure may continue to rise. Over the 2015 to 2016 period, nurses saw their average earnings rise by almost 7%. That’s solid income growth for just one year. In this metric the metro ranks fifth.

Of course, taking a job in Santa Rose-Petaluma means having to contend with the high costs of living in California.

6. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Around 2.9% of all workers around Albuquerque are nurses. While that may not seem like a particularly high figure, it’s expected to grow. Just from 2015 to 2016, the total number of nursing jobs in the area grew by 8.5%.

That increased demand for nurses means they can negotiate for higher wages. From 2015 to 2016, the average nurse in the Albuquerque area received a 4.7% increase in wages.

7. Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia-South Carolina

The best place for nurses in the southeast is located in the Augusta-Richmond metro area. This area between Georgia and South Carolina is home to one of the highest concentration of nurses. Just under 4.1% of all workers in this metro are in the nursing industry. That means about one in every 25 people you meet in Augusta is a nurse.

From 2011 to 2016, median nursing incomes here grew 11.6%. That’s the 22nd-highest rate in the study.

8. Dayton, Ohio

Like Augusta, Dayton is full of nurses. Around 3.97% of all employed people in Dayton are nurses, the seventh-highest rate in our study. One reason our data shows that Dayton is a good spot for nurses is the uptick in wages. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, from 2015 to 2016 Dayton nurses got a raise of 4.9%, on average. That’s a top 10 rate.

9. Fort Wayne, Indiana

Job security is good in Fort Wayne. From 2015 to 2016, the number of nursing jobs around Fort Wayne jumped up over 11%, a top 15 rate.

One drawback is that nurses in Fort Wayne have the lowest income after housing in the top 10. But, the median income may be on the rise. From 2011 to 2016, the average Fort Wayne saw annual income rise by about 11.6%.

10. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, California

Demand for nurses around Sacramento is exploding. According to our data, there has been a 20% increase in the number of nursing jobs in this metro area from 2011 to 2016. Nurses here do well for themselves economically speaking. We estimate that nurses earn $91,000 in income after housing costs.

One concern for nurses however is that their median incomes actually dropped slightly (by 0.4%) from 2015 to 2016.

best places to be a nurse

Data and Methodology

In order to find the best places for nurses we analyzed data for 147 metro areas with a population of at least 300,000. Specifically, we looked at data for the following six metrics:

  • 1-year income growth. This is the percent change in average incomes for nurses from 2015 to 2016. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • 5-year income growth. This is the percent change in average incomes for nurses from 2011 to 2016. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • 1-year job growth. This is the percent change in the number of nurses from 2015 to 2016. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • 5-year job growth. This is the percent change in the number of nurses from 2011 to 2016. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Nurses as a percent of overall workforce. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Income after housing. This is the average income for nurses in an area minus median annual housing cost. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 1-Year American Community Survey.

We ranked each metro area in each metric. After we found each area’s average ranking, giving equal weighting to each metric. Using this average ranking we created our final index. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for Making the Most out of Your Savings

For anyone who is taking home a regular paycheck and starting to save, the question of what to do with your savings usually arises. Here are some tips for what to do with your savings.

  • If you are looking for liquidity and security you should consider putting your money in a savings account. This is especially true for people who are building their emergency fund or who are maybe saving up for something over the short term. For example if you plan on buying a car in the next few months you could use a high yield savings account to hit your goal.
  • If you are thinking longer term, investing could be a good option. Investing in the bond market or the stock market will mean taking on more risk but will also give you better returns. If you’re new to investing, you could consider working with a financial advisor who can help you decide how to invest your money.
  • If you are looking for retirement, an IRA or a 401(k) is likely your best best. These accounts offer almost no liquidity because there is a penalty for withdrawing from them early. However putting money in your 401(k) or IRA can give you a break on your taxes. Plus, it’s never too early to start saving for retirement.

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

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ajr_images

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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