Deciding where to lay the foundation for a long and prosperous career can be a tall order, especially for recent graduates entering the job market for the first time. After all, there are many factors — job-market saturation, housing affordability and commuter-friendliness, for instance — to consider about each prospective area.
Unfortunately, new graduates aren’t entering the market at a great time, as the unemployment rate for people ages 20 through 24 was 10.5% in April 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that employers plan to hire 7.2% more graduates from the Class of 2021 than they did from the Class of 2020. Due to increased hiring and the vaccine rollout, we should expect to see significant declines in unemployment this year.
In order to help new graduates start their search for a career, WalletHub compared the relative market strength and overall livability of more than 180 U.S. cities to help recent college graduates find the best cradles for their budding careers. We examined each city based on 28 key metrics that range from the availability of entry-level jobs to monthly average starting salary to housing affordability.
Best Cities to Start a Career
Quality of Life
|1||Salt Lake City, UT||69.15||2||2|
|8||Overland Park, KS||60.38||11||23|
|25||San Francisco, CA||56.81||51||9|
|27||St. Petersburg, FL||56.34||12||94|
|31||Grand Rapids, MI||55.54||14||101|
|33||South Burlington, VT||55.13||44||47|
|37||St. Louis, MO||55.00||8||141|
|38||West Valley City, UT||54.99||38||61|
|39||Kansas City, MO||54.90||55||34|
|43||Colorado Springs, CO||54.27||36||73|
|44||Fort Worth, TX||54.21||43||63|
|45||San Diego, CA||54.17||82||13|
|47||Fort Smith, AR||54.13||35||74|
|54||Des Moines, IA||53.34||62||59|
|56||Sioux Falls, SD||52.89||85||40|
|68||Virginia Beach, VA||51.84||93||43|
|73||San Jose, CA||51.21||66||92|
|74||Oklahoma City, OK||51.19||109||32|
|78||Fort Wayne, IN||50.85||40||150|
|82||Rancho Cucamonga, CA||50.53||98||66|
|84||Rapid City, SD||50.36||142||29|
|92||St. Paul, MN||49.61||122||58|
|96||New Orleans, LA||49.10||111||71|
|102||San Antonio, TX||48.40||106||87|
|104||Fort Lauderdale, FL||48.30||45||166|
|107||Baton Rouge, LA||48.03||102||100|
|109||Cedar Rapids, IA||47.74||150||65|
|115||Newport News, VA||47.53||90||138|
|116||Grand Prairie, TX||47.46||101||118|
|117||Santa Rosa, CA||47.42||96||128|
|121||San Bernardino, CA||46.90||105||127|
|122||Las Vegas, NV||46.90||123||110|
|126||Little Rock, AR||46.32||147||81|
|127||Moreno Valley, CA||46.30||120||129|
|128||Los Angeles, CA||46.29||137||97|
|130||Huntington Beach, CA||46.03||159||68|
|145||Cape Coral, FL||44.38||116||163|
|148||Pearl City, HI||44.00||160||105|
|151||Port St. Lucie, FL||43.81||73||178|
|153||Chula Vista, CA||43.76||156||117|
|155||Garden Grove, CA||43.40||167||93|
|157||Long Beach, CA||42.98||158||133|
|158||Corpus Christi, TX||42.90||153||144|
|159||Santa Ana, CA||42.87||157||136|
|165||Las Cruces, NM||42.19||168||126|
|168||Jersey City, NJ||41.80||170||123|
|170||El Paso, TX||40.31||173||151|
|171||New Haven, CT||40.31||162||165|
|173||Santa Clarita, CA||39.86||177||142|
|175||North Las Vegas, NV||38.66||176||164|
|177||Pembroke Pines, FL||37.78||146||179|
|180||New York, NY||33.15||181||173|
Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that city, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.
Ask The Experts
Choosing a career path can be just as challenging as finding a place in which to settle down. To help job seekers with such decisions, we turned to a panel of experts for their thoughts on the following key questions:
- What can city policy makers and corporations do to attract and retain recent graduates?
- Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?
- What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?
- In choosing a city to start a career, what are the top five indicators?
- How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the entry-level job market?
- What are some tips for navigating internships and entry-level jobs during the pandemic?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the best cities in which to launch a career, WalletHub compared 182 cities — including the 150 most populated U.S. cities, plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state — across two key dimensions, “Professional Opportunities” and “Quality of Life.” Our sample considers only city proper in each case and excludes cities in the surrounding metro area.
We evaluated the two dimensions using 28 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for job-market entrants.
We then determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Professional Opportunities – Total Points: 70
- Availability of Entry-Level Jobs: Double Weight (~9.66 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of entry-level jobs per 100,000 residents aged 16 and older.
- 4+ Star Company Jobs per Total People in Labor Force: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of entry-level job opportunities at companies with 4+ stars on Glassdoor.com per the total number of people in the labor force.
- Monthly Average Starting Salary: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
Note: This metric was adjusted for the cost of living.
- Annual Job Growth Rate: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
Note: This metric was adjusted for population growth.
- Median-Income Growth Rate: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
- Share of Workers in Poverty: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
- Workforce Diversity: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
- Unemployment Rate: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
- Underemployment Rate: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
- Employer-Based Retirement Access & Participation: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
Note: It’s important for employees to have access to an employer-based retirement plan.
Workers in the United States accumulate the vast majority of their retirement savings through employer-based plans, but large gaps in coverage exist. Pew’s analysis shows that more than 30 million workers report they do not have access to an employer-based retirement plan.
The analysis focuses on full-time, full-year, private sector wage and salary workers, ages 18 to 64.
- Job Satisfaction: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
Note: This metric is based on The Indeed Job Happiness Index 2016.
- Career Counselors per 1,000 Workers: Half Weight (~2.41 Points)
- Entrepreneur-Friendliness: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Best Large Cities to Start a Business” ranking.
- MSA GDP Growth Rate: Full Weight (~4.83 Points)
Quality of Life – Total Points: 30
- Median Annual Income: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
Note: This metric was adjusted for the cost of living.
- Average Length of Work Week (in Hours): Half Weight (~1.00 Points)
- Commuter-Friendly Jobs: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of jobs accessible by a 30-minute transit ride per total civilian employed population.
- Average Commute Time (in Minutes): Half Weight (~1.00 Points)
- Share of Population Aged 25 to 34: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Share of Millennial Newcomers: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Share of Adults Aged 25 & Older with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Projected Population Growth (2046 vs. 2016): Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Housing Affordability: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Fun-Friendliness: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Most Fun Cities in America” ranking.
- Family-Friendliness: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Best & Worst Cities for Families” ranking.
- Singles-Friendliness: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Best & Worst Cities for Singles” ranking.
- Average Daily COVID-19 Deaths in the Past Week per Capita: Double Weight (~4.00 Points)
- Average Daily COVID-19 Cases in the Past Week per Capita: Double Weight (~4.00 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Indeed.com, Glassdoor, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Council for Community & Economic Research, United States Conference of Mayors, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Chmura Economics & Analytics, Center for Neighborhood Technology, The New York Times and WalletHub research.