This is where nurse wages are highest — and where your RN salary is worth the most! – Nurse Recruiter

This is where nurse wages are highest — and where your RN salary is worth the most!

New data about nurse wages just dropped last month, and we’re going to be real with you: we know a lot about nurse salaries but we weren’t prepared for how extreme the differences have become!

Once a year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases new salary data by occupation, and that includes Registered Nurses. They break it down by state and by city, and we turned those numbers into a bunch of maps and charts to better show you where you’re best off.

(Spoiler: it’s California!)

Map: Average annual Registered Nurse wage by state (2023)

In the cities with the highest nurse pay of the country — and yes, they’re all in California — Registered Nurse wages are well over twice what RNs earn where salaries are lowest. And no, that’s not fair. It’s not like the work is any easier down in Mobile, Alabama or Springfield, Missouri!

Table: Top 10 cities with highest annual average nurse wages (metropolitan areas, 2023)
Table: Top 10 cities with lowest annual average nurse wages (metropolitan areas, 2023)

All along the Pacific Coast, up from modest Longview in Washington down to San Diego, nurse wages are just way higher than most anywhere else. We may have come 150 years, but the ancient slogan of “Go West, Young Man” still applies to nurses (of any gender) today. And California in particular is just in a league of its own!

Is it because of the unique nurse-to-patient ratios laws there, or because the unions are so strong? We’d love to know what you think, so leave your take in the comments.

Either way, nurse wages there are through the roof compared to the rest of the country — and they’re highest of all in the Bay Area. Zoom in on the map below, or click on the magnifying glass icon on the left to find your city!

Sure, costs of living are higher there too, of course. But we specifically went and looked at that as well, using an official metric called Regional Price Parities. You can forget that name immediately again, but what matters is that it includes the price of food, transport, housing, recreation, medical costs — you name it.

In the chart below, we compare the average annual wage with how much purchasing power that gets you, state by state. And by either metric, the top 5 states are out West.

Chart: Average annual Registered Nurse wage by state (2023) and how far that money goes (purchasing power)

Taking the cost of living into account does make a lot of the differences across the country smaller. Honestly, on average, you’re no worse off with a nursing job in Louisiana than in Vermont. It’s not all about blue states versus red states. Alaska is way up there, and New Hampshire ranks almost at the bottom.

But even then, if you just want to get that bag nursing life is simply superior in California. And nurse wages in Hawaii and Oregon still fare very well after accounting for local prices as well.

Map: Purchasing power of the average annual Registered Nurse wage, by state (2023)

Boston or New York City, on the other hand? Yeah, not so much. Wages there are high, for sure. But expensive living costs will eat up a lot of that extra coin.

Likewise, on average you’re better off in the quaint city of Albany, Oregon than looking for a nursing job in Seattle. If you set the unicorn state of California aside for the moment — my god, look at all that blue! — you should probably shun some of those bright city lights if you want your money to go the furthest!

Chart: Top 30 average annual Registered Nurse wage by city and how far that money goes in purchasing power (metropolitan area, 2023)

Anchorage has excellent wages. But if you prefer the heat over the Arctic cold, we have a surprising inside tip: Las Vegas is good, but Yuma, Arizona is better! The sun shines 310 days a year, and an average nurse wage goes a lot further than in Atlanta or Minneapolis.

And this is where we at NurseRecruiter will weigh in with a major aside. All these numbers, they’re just about regular wages. If you’re a travel nurse, you’re probably looking at these numbers and going, “man — I can do so much better”. And you’re right! Find a travel job on our site and the numbers are bound to look a whole lot more promising still.

But reality is a stubborn thing, and not everyone can be hopping all across the country every three months. Some of you have family, responsibilities, a house; reasons to not stray too far. That’s why we’re going to break down top-paying nurse locations region by region as well.

First, here’s the top 5 highest average wages for Registered Nurses by region, according to the BLS:

Chart: Top 5 cities by region with the highest average annual Registered Nurse wage (metropolitan areas, 2023)

But, again, don’t just look at the plain salary numbers. Weigh up wages and local prices, and we’ll show you in the chart below: you’ll get to some surprising conclusions!

Who among you had nursing assignments in Vineland, New Jersey, or Florence, South Carolina, on your regional get-rich lists? Or in Mankato, Minnesota?

Chart: Top 5 cities by region where the average annual Registered Nurse wage translates into the most purchasing power (metropolitan areas, 2023)

Northern California, on the other hand, is just so far ahead of the pack in terms of wages that it still looks good even with the insane prices there.

In all of the United States, an average RN wage goes furthest in Vallejo, California — followed by San Jose, San Francisco, Napa, Sacramento, and Modesto.

There’s one pretty big obstacle to getting your next nursing job in California though, of course, and that’s that it’s not a compact state. It’s one of the few states left that have refused to join the NLC.

As a nursing job board whose listings include a wide range of attractive travel nursing assignments, we’ve not made it a secret that we’re all for expanding the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC). But here’s a question for you: could California’s choice to wall themselves off from outside nurses and its high wages be related?

We’re not going to get into all that here. But to better point you at other competitive nursing destinations, we will give you a closer look at nurse wages in the Northeast instead!

At first sight, it seems like an all too familiar picture. The highest wages are in the big cities or close to them, like in Bridgeport-Stamford in Connecticut or Worcester in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, a lot of places outside the BosWash corridor turn an ugly brownish shade.

But take prices into account and things start looking a little different! Sure, “the city that never sleeps” it ain’t, but you’ll be able to afford more of life’s luxuries on an average nursing salary in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, or near Lake Huron in Saginaw, Michigan.

And let’s be honest, it’s not like you’re going to be partying all night after pulling three 12-hour shifts anyway… Better get in those UberEats orders without worrying about bills!

Finally, don’t forget: wherever you live and wherever you plan to go, averages are just averages. You’re not average, and with our thousands upon thousands of RN job listings, we’ll help you beat them!

Bookmark this post and you’ll have the info at hand to evaluate any individual nursing job post you’ll see. Are they underpaying or overpaying for the region they’re in? Use that knowledge to your advantage, and find the pay you deserve!

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One comment

Wow. Phoenix pays 92k vs Chicago at 90k? Are there hospitals in Phoenix where the nurses are in a union??