Unemployment in the U.S. is at a 50-year low, but some cities hold more prospects for job seekers than others.
MoneyGeek analyzed key metrics to compile a list of the top 15 cities for job seekers in 2020 by comparing job growth, wage growth, housing affordability and competition for jobs.
The best cities for jobs have varied industries, but also offer livable amenities and personality. "The character of a place plays a major role, especially among the younger and educated workforce," says Kyle Walker, associate professor of geography and director of the Center for Urban Studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
All scores are on a scale from 0 to 100. For job growth and affordability (wages/rents), the higher, the better. For job competition, the lower the score, the better.
Top 15 Cities for Jobs
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 77.7|
|Job competition is lower: 9.5|
|Housing affordability: 37.7|
|Total score: 79.6|
As the Nashville Post recently put it, "Greater Nashville produced jaw-dropping growth numbers for most of the 2010s." The data bears this out, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting employment growth in Nashville has grown by 11.66% over the last three years. The cost of living helps put this city at the top of MoneyGeek's list as well. The average share of income spent on rent in Nashville is 38.46%. That's a significant amount of money going toward rent — but nothing compared to New York City's numbers (52.63%) or San Francisco's numbers (76.92%).
The Nashville Post points out that things have cooled off a bit, mostly due to a slowed construction industry. But there is still healthy job growth, especially in the leisure and hospitality industries, and it's one of those cities where it's virtually impossible to be bored, with numerous parks, bike trails, museums and, of course, live music venues offering all genres.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 82.2|
|Job competition is lower: 16.8|
|Housing affordability: 34.0|
|Total score: 77.6|
Seattle is known for being home to such tech giants as Amazon and Microsoft, companies that have their headquarters in this Pacific Northwest city. Microsoft alone has 53,973 employees in the Puget Sound area, while Amazon has over 53,000 employees and hopes to fill another 10,000 this year. Small wonder the unemployment rate in this city is just 2.9%. The nation's largest industrial and manufacturing exporter, Boeing, is also located in the Seattle area.
According to The Seattle Times, "Seattle offers the city amenities and nearby natural beauty prized by in-demand tech talent — but at a lower cost than San Francisco or Silicon Valley. That's why the area has attracted high-end operations with thousands of good jobs from Google, Facebook, Apple, Salesforce and others."
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 60.1|
|Job competition is lower: 8.4|
|Housing affordability: 81.2|
|Total score: 77.0|
Birmingham is a surprising contender — driven by some of the most affordable housing (vs. rents) and some of the lowest unemployment in the cities considered. The city boasts a healthy employment growth rate of 7.7% over the last three years, which could have to do with the new startup companies that have put down stakes in the city.
The average share of income spent on rent in Birmingham is only 24.39%. The same-day delivery service Shipt is based in Birmingham, and there's also an impressive innovation district called The Switch.
According to The Switch's website, "This vibrant, exciting area within the city center is where creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, students and tech-savvy innovators are already coming together to conceive and launch new ideas. The Switch accelerates existing momentum by defining a destination for innovation."
The city also offers plenty of leisure activities with new restaurants and clubs cropping up along with trails for bicyclists and walkers. So far, 115 miles of trails have been developed as part of a 750-mile network of trails, sidewalks, greenways and creeks and rivers for canoers and kayakers.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 72.9|
|Job competition is lower: 7.8|
|Housing affordability: 31.0|
|Total score: 76.8|
A columnist recently wrote about Denver, "Our robust and diverse economy, combined with pristine outdoor recreation and an unmatched quality of life, attract some of the biggest industry names and a workforce to match."
Some of those big names include Red Robin, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Camp Bow Wow, Frontier Airlines and Coors Brewing Company. Employment growth for the last three years is a healthy 8.74%, and Denver has one of the highest average hourly wage increases at 6.46%. As for that pristine outdoor recreation that The Denver Post columnist mentioned, residents just need to look out their windows at the spellbinding Rocky Mountains.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 62.7|
|Job competition is lower: 0.6|
|Housing affordability: 40.0|
|Total score: 76.4|
"Booming" is a word you hear a lot associated with Salt Lake City's economy. The city, with a labor force of 675,387 workers (as of November 2019) and an unemployment rate of 1.88%, is business friendly with attractive corporate tax rates. The massive expansion of the airport is only going to make the city even more appealing for companies.
Commercial real estate is doing well here, and so are tech companies — about 100 call Salt Lake City home. People are moving here, too, and for a good reason. There's a new performing arts center, and many public transit options, which you can use to go to the city's 2,000 restaurants and 13 breweries.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 68.7|
|Job competition is lower: 11.2|
|Housing affordability: 35.8|
|Total score: 73.3|
Not surprisingly, Orlando — home to numerous theme parks — has a thriving tourism industry. Last year, the Orlando International Airport broke records for the number of people it brought to the city, with 50.6 million annual passengers visiting the airport in 2019. That may hurt the livability a little — tourists mean traffic — but Orlando's success has brought a lot of jobs to the city. In the last three years, Orlando has seen an impressive employment growth rate of 10.79%. Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation, a 2019 Aon Best Employer, recently announced that it's developing its new global corporate headquarters in Orlando.
Orlando's economy isn't all about tourism, though. Other major companies also have offices and headquarters here, including major health care companies such as AdventHealth and Orlando Health, and restaurant operator Darden Restaurants. Defense giant Lockheed Martin has a significant presence in Orlando as well.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 56.1|
|Job competition is lower: 19.5|
|Housing affordability: 92.3|
|Total score: 70.5|
The city, meanwhile, gets a lot of high marks as a liveable city. The average share of income spent on rent is the second-lowest on our list at 22.22%. There are parks galore and a robust public transit system. Additionally, St. Louis has many walking paths and the glorious Mississippi River.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 64.6|
|Job competition is lower: 18.7|
|Housing affordability: 57.8|
|Total score: 70.4|
Blueprint Nebraska is a government initiative transforming the entire state, helping cities attract a younger workforce and startup companies, and encouraging cities to be more innovative by bringing in businesses like tech firms.
Employment has grown an impressive 6.19% in Omaha, a city with a labor force of 506,412 people (as of last November). One business leader recently told Omaha World-Herald, "We want to get the message out that there are numerous companies that can't hire fast enough."
Omaha boasts some impressive job opportunities. The city is home to five Fortune 500 companies, including Berkshire Hathaway, led by billionaire investor Warren Buffett. It's a beautiful city, too. Come for the jobs and stay for the numerous nature parks and preserves.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 67.6|
|Job competition is lower: 24.5|
|Housing affordability: 54.6|
|Total score: 68.4|
The tech sector is thriving in Baltimore, as are the health care and insurance industries. Maryland ranks number four on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of states with the highest concentration of computer jobs, and Baltimore ranks number seven on the list of highest-paying metropolitan areas for this occupation.
The Port of Baltimore brings in commerce from around the world. "The Port of Baltimore continues to demonstrate why it is one of Maryland's leading economic engines," Gov. Larry Hogan said in a 2019 statement. Things have been going well in Baltimore for job hunters. The employment growth rate for the last three years has been 5.88%, and hourly earnings have grown by 5.27%.
Baltimore is within an easy day's drive of gorgeous East Coast beaches and dynamic cities such as Washington, D.C. (an hour's drive away), Philadelphia (two hours) and New York City (three hours). The average share of income spent on rent, considering Baltimore's size, isn't so bad either at 30.30%.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 78.9|
|Job competition is lower: 34.0|
|Housing affordability: 46.4|
|Total score: 68.3|
The weather is hot in Phoenix, but the economy is hotter. The housing market is helping shape that trend. Jim Belfiore, founder and president of Belfiore Real Estate Consulting, said, "We expect demand to surge in the second half of 2020 and in the spring of 2021, with the only concern on the horizon being Arizona's — and the country's — ability to attract more workers into the labor market to fill newly created jobs."
The tech market is also thriving in Phoenix. A report from the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and CBRE revealed that Phoenix is rapidly becoming a tech hub: "Tech companies can leverage the large and talented workforce fueled by Arizona State University, the largest engineering school in the nation, where 24,000 engineering students are enrolled." Job growth data confirms how pleasant the climate is in Phoenix for job seekers: Employment growth for the last three years has been at 13.04%, which is the highest on this list.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 62.1|
|Job competition is lower: 17.2|
|Housing affordability: 42.2|
|Total score: 67.4|
According to a 2020 headline in The Dallas Morning News, the Texas economy added almost 1,000 jobs a day in 2019, which may explain the low unemployment rate of 3.04% and an unemployment growth rate over the last three years of 9.4%. As The Dallas Morning News also noted, transportation and utilities were where the action was, while the energy sector has experienced slower growth as of late.
Dallas contains all activities and excitement that come with a big city, including hiking and biking trails, parks, performing arts centers, theaters and a first-rate zoo and aquarium.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 61.7|
|Job competition is lower: 19.7|
|Housing affordability: 46.5|
|Total score: 66.4|
The San Antonio Express-News recently summed up the city's success when discussing how well area banks have been faring: "An ever-rising population, job gains, a stout housing market and business expansion have all contributed to the robust lending activity and profits."
San Antonio's success story continues with employment growth in the last three years at a healthy 7.43%. In 2019, employment growth was at 2.2%, which is slightly higher than Texas overall and up from 1.8% in 2018.
If you're looking for work, work in San Antonio is looking for you. Manufacturing and medical research have done well as have jobs in construction, health care, leisure and hospitality. Speaking of hospitality, San Antonio offers it in spades, including the San Antonio RiverWalk, Natural Bridge Caverns and, of course, remember the Alamo.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 51.8|
|Job competition is lower: 0.0*|
|Housing affordability: 12.1|
|Total score: 66.2|
Education, technology and health care are thriving in Boston. In 2019, CBRE ranked Boston as seventh on its list of best areas for tech talent in North America, and the city was named the third-fastest growing tech hub in the country by Indeed.
Millennials and Generation Z'ers are thriving in Boston, though the number of children living in Boston has dwindled over several decades. This just means that families with kids have moved to the suburbs. Part of the reason for this could be that it's costly to live in Boston proper. The average share of income spent on rent is 58.82%, which is the highest on this list, but figures such as a 7.9% employment growth rate over three years and an hourly earnings growth rate of 5.92% are what make Boston a top city for job growth in 2020.
*Editor's Note: Boston is the least competitive market in our data set, and thus receives the lowest possible value on our 0-100 scale
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 78.7|
|Job competition is lower: 35.1|
|Housing affordability: 34.7|
|Total score: 65.8|
You may have heard that Las Vegas has bet big on the tourism industry. Because of this winning industry, other sectors are doing well, too. The construction industry is doing exceptionally well here, with $10 billion in projects happening over the next two years, including an NFL stadium and an expanded Las Vegas Convention Center.
Las Vegas was struck by the economic downturn that started in 2008 — the unemployment rate in Las Vegas peaked in October 2010 at 14.0% — but employment growth over the last three years was 10.8%, and the unemployment rate in December 2019 was down to 3.5%.
Tourism isn't the only game in town. Las Vegas is home to the headquarters of Zappos, Allegiant Airlines, and NV Energy, among other companies. Nevada is an outdoor recreation and entertainment paradise. There's ample opportunity to hike and bike Mt. Charleston, catch an NFL game, visit one of the many quirky museums, and, yes, enjoy the neon and drop by a casino.
|Overall growth (jobs and wages): 62.7|
|Job competition is lower: 23.5|
|Housing affordability: 50.3|
|Total score: 65.5|
North Carolina is favorable for business, and many companies have made their headquarters in Charlotte as a result. Bank of America is headquartered in Charlotte, along with Duke Energy, Brighthouse Financial and Sonic Automotive.
Lowes is 40 minutes away in Mooresville, which has attracted companies like Jeld-Wen to Charlotte because Jeld-Wen is a significant supplier of Lowes. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company is in Charlotte, and Honeywell just moved its headquarters here. The Tar Heel state is also favorable for job seekers, boasting an 8.42% employment growth rate over the last three years.
Geoff Williams has been a freelance journalist since the 1990s, mostly specializing in personal finance and small business issues. Over the years, his articles have appeared in CNNMoney.com, Consumer Reports, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, LIFE, Ladies’ Home Journal, Forbes.com and with American Express Business Trends and Insights. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America."
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters and is a graduate of Indiana University. To learn more about Geoff Williams, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow his rarely used Twitter page.
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Forbes. “Salt Lake City Is Thinking Big To Keep Pace With Growth.” Accessed February 25, 2020.
FTN News. “Orlando International Airport Breaks Records in 2019.” Accessed February 25, 2020.
Nashville Post. “Area job growth cools off.” Accessed February 25, 2020.
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Omaha World Herald. “‘Companies can’t hire fast enough’: Tech and trade skills are in demand for Nebraska companies.” Accessed February 25, 2020.
Patch. “Business Is Booming At Port Of Baltimore, Says Governor.” Accessed February 25, 2020.
Rivard Report. “2020 Economy Forecast: Sunny with a Slight Chance of Decline.” Accessed February 25, 2020.
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