Best & Worst Places to Start a Career
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. The market is ripe for new graduates, though, with an unemployment rate of only 3.8 percent as of March 2019. And employers plan to hire nearly 17 percent more graduates from the Class of 2019 than they did from the Class of 2018.
Starting a career doesn’t need to be that difficult or intimidating. 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 29 key metrics that range from the availability of entry-level jobs to monthly average starting salary to workforce diversity. A complete breakdown of our findings, a detailed methodology and expert career advice can be found below.
Best Cities to Start a Career
‘Professional Opportunities’ Rank
‘Quality of Life’ Rank
|1||Salt Lake City, UT||70.03||1||2|
|14||St. Louis, MO||60.11||8||54|
|15||San Francisco, CA||59.95||12||47|
|18||Grand Rapids, MI||59.29||21||27|
|22||San Jose, CA||58.32||13||84|
|23||St. Paul, MN||58.26||29||22|
|26||Overland Park, KS||58.02||25||32|
|27||Fort Worth, TX||57.90||16||77|
|28||Fort Lauderdale, FL||57.85||10||98|
|35||Des Moines, IA||55.98||31||48|
|43||San Diego, CA||53.92||45||49|
|45||Colorado Springs, CO||53.79||58||34|
|46||San Antonio, TX||53.76||48||46|
|49||West Valley City, UT||53.53||40||73|
|50||Oklahoma City, OK||53.47||55||44|
|53||Sioux Falls, SD||53.16||71||33|
|55||St. Petersburg, FL||52.91||43||78|
|58||Rapid City, SD||52.40||61||53|
|60||Las Vegas, NV||52.10||52||75|
|65||Kansas City, MO||51.62||63||68|
|84||Virginia Beach, VA||49.11||115||39|
|87||Grand Prairie, TX||48.73||58||134|
|91||Cedar Rapids, IA||48.31||106||63|
|94||South Burlington, VT||47.70||114||61|
|102||Little Rock, AR||46.70||102||114|
|111||Rancho Cucamonga, CA||46.03||136||72|
|112||Jersey City, NJ||45.99||151||54|
|113||Corpus Christi, TX||45.97||89||140|
|114||New Orleans, LA||45.56||138||80|
|118||Baton Rouge, LA||45.14||135||93|
|121||Los Angeles, CA||44.84||109||135|
|122||Huntington Beach, CA||44.77||132||109|
|125||Port St. Lucie, FL||44.64||73||181|
|129||Fort Wayne, IN||44.52||110||137|
|131||Santa Rosa, CA||44.38||94||162|
|142||El Paso, TX||42.85||147||125|
|143||Cape Coral, FL||42.70||127||151|
|144||San Bernardino, CA||42.47||139||143|
|146||Long Beach, CA||42.34||131||158|
|150||Garden Grove, CA||42.27||162||113|
|154||Chula Vista, CA||41.97||119||173|
|156||North Las Vegas, NV||41.82||155||136|
|158||Pembroke Pines, FL||41.24||143||163|
|159||Las Cruces, NM||41.10||175||90|
|161||Fort Smith, AR||40.77||153||161|
|166||Moreno Valley, CA||40.07||152||177|
|169||Santa Ana, CA||39.31||165||168|
|170||New York, NY||39.31||168||149|
|172||Santa Clarita, CA||38.97||160||175|
|174||Newport News, VA||38.76||177||128|
|176||New Haven, CT||38.05||181||108|
|177||Pearl City, HI||38.00||173||164|
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 tips do you have for job seekers who are applying for jobs in a different city?
- 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?
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 29 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 (~8.48 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of entry-level jobs per 100,000 residents aged 16 years and older.
- 4+ Star Company Jobs per Total People in Labor Force: Full Weight (~4.24 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.
- Job Fairs per Total People in Labor Force: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
- Monthly Average Starting Salary: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
Note: This metric was adjusted for the cost of living.
- Annual Job Growth Rate: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
Note: This metric was adjusted for population growth.
- Median-Income Growth Rate: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
- Share of Workers in Poverty: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
- Economic Mobility: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
Note: The probability that a child grew up in the bottom half of the family income distribution and will have family income on the top half of the income distribution by age 30.
- Workforce Diversity: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
- Unemployment Rate: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
- Underemployment Rate: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
- Employer-Based Retirement Access & Participation: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
Notes: 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 (~4.24 Points)
Note: This metric is based on The Indeed Job Happiness Index 2016.
- Career Counselors per 1,000 Workers: Half Weight (~2.12 Points)
- Entrepreneur-Friendliness: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Best Large Cities to Start a Business ranking.
- MSA GDP Growth Rate: Full Weight (~4.24 Points)
Quality of Life – Total Points: 30
- Median Annual Income: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric was adjusted for the cost of living.
- Average Length of Work Week (in Hours): Half Weight (~1.25 Points)
- Commuter-Friendly Jobs: Full Weight (~2.50 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 (~1.25 Points)
- Share of Population Aged 25 to 34 Years: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Share of Millennial Newcomers: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Strength of Social Ties: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric is based on responses to Sharecare’s RealAge® Test and was used in our analysis to highlight the places where relationships with family and friends are strongest and therefore likely to result in a positive effect on a person’s social life.
- Share of Adults Aged 25 Years & Older with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Projected Population Growth (2046 vs. 2016): Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Housing Affordability: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Fun-Friendliness: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Most Fun Cities in America ranking.
- Family-Friendliness: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Best & Worst Cities for Families ranking.
- Singles-Friendliness: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Best & Worst Cities for Singles ranking.
Videos for News Use:
- YouTube (for web embedding National)
- YouTube (for web embedding Salt Lake City, UT)
- Raw files (for editing into clips)
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, Sharecare, Indeed.com, Glassdoor, Eventbrite, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Equality of Opportunity Project, Council for Community & Economic Research, United States Conference of Mayors, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Chmura Economics & Analytics, Center for Neighborhood Technology and WalletHub research.
Image: iQoncept / Shutterstock.com
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