Choosing where to live and work is a complex decision. Personal preferences are certainly important, such as warm or cold weather, coastal living versus inland and proximity to friends and family.
But there are some considerations, shared by many of us, that can make certain areas seem more desirable than others. Based on these criteria, we dug into Indeed’s job-search and posting data to create this year’s list of the best cities for job seekers.
These are cities where job seekers:
- Face the least competition for jobs.
- Command the highest salaries.
- Work at the highest-rated companies.
- Face a low likelihood of unemployment.
Our data analysts ranked U.S. metro areas on each of these factors, then gave each one an overall score. Here’s what they found.
Top cities for job seekers cover all U.S. regions
Two California cities top the overall scores this year: tech hub San Jose (number one) and nearby neighbor San Francisco, the “city by the Bay” (number two). Beyond that, every region of the U.S. made an appearance in the top 10.
The rest of the highest-ranked cities based on overall scores are spread across the country. In the West, Salt Lake City rounds out the ranks at number 10. Boston (number three) and Washington, DC (number nine) are the best cities for job seekers on the East Coast. Birmingham, Alabama (number four); Nashville, Tennessee (number five) and Oklahoma City (number eight) are the best Southern cities for job seekers, with Minneapolis-St. Paul (number six) and Milwaukee (number seven) representing the Midwest.
Let’s do a deep dive into our overall top five cities to learn more about what’s going on in each one.
1. San Jose, California
San Jose, California, has the best job market favorability, meaning the lowest competition for jobs; in fact, some local companies are now hiring remote workers or opening satellite offices in other cities, unable to pay talent the high wage it takes to support the expense of living in Silicon Valley.
Given this, it’s unsurprising that the city has the second-lowest unemployment rate but drops to near the bottom on our adjusted salary measure (number 37). However, those who do work there seem to love their jobs — San Jose has the second-highest company reviews.
While well known as one of America’s most tech-savvy cities, San Jose also has a unique architectural history, from the 18th-century Peralta Adobe to the 160-room Winchester Mystery House. Today, 4.8% of San Joseans are in the architecture and engineering industry, which is nearly three times the U.S. average (1.8%). Google is also in the midst of building a 940,000-square-foot campus in northern San Jose, heightening the interests of tech connoisseurs and architects alike.
2. San Francisco, California
San Francisco fares similarly to San Jose in individual ranking categories. Job competition is low (ranking second in job market favorability), as is the unemployment rate (number three), and people rate companies there highly (number five). However, the high cost of living in the Bay Area leads to a lower ranking for adjusted salary (number 39).
San Franciscans’ love for efficiently navigating their hilly city intersects with their passion for tech — transportation game changers Lyft and Uber are headquartered here. Aside from influential tech companies, what many picture when they think of San Francisco are the iconic cable cars. Small wonder, since trade, transportation and utilities make up the city’s second-biggest employment industry, with nearly 378,000 workers.
3. Boston, Massachusetts
Job seekers in Boston face low unemployment (number five) and low competition for jobs (number six on job market favorability). Bostonians rate companies in the city fairly well (number 11) and have adjusted salaries near the middle of the pack (number 21).
Boston’s deep historical roots include deep ties to education. This Northeastern city is home to Harvard University, the oldest higher-education institution in the U.S. Over 150,000 students attend one of the city’s 31 colleges and universities, which employ over 35,000 workers. Nearly half of all young adults (43.1%) in Boston hold at least a bachelor's degree, and 6.4% of its workforce is in education, training and library-related fields (compared to 6.1% nationally) — so this city is the place to be, no matter which side of academia you’re on.
4. Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama, ranks at the top for adjusted salary, likely due to the city’s affordable housing prices and low cost of living. Workers in Birmingham rate companies relatively highly (number 13) and face slightly more competition for jobs (ranking 30th on job market favorability), potentially making it easier for employers to find talent here. The city lands near the middle for unemployment (number 23).
Birmingham, originally an iron and steel town, has recently gained traction as a health-care hub: 8.6% of citizens have jobs in the health-care practitioners and technical sector, which is above the national average of 6%. Furthermore, the two biggest health-care construction companies are headquartered in Birmingham, along with one of America’s top-rated hospitals. With a large, established health workforce, this might be a good place for employers hiring in that industry.
5. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville has the lowest relative unemployment rate of all cities in the top 50. Job seekers in Nashville face somewhat low competition for jobs (ranking 16th on job market favorability) and receive moderate adjusted salaries (number 19). Workers here also give companies slightly lower reviews (number 32).
Nashville, the country-music capital of the U.S., is also home to some of the best-ranked food in the South — and nearly one out of every 10 people here (9.6%) are in the food preparation and service industry. Nashville is also part of “freight alley,” an important area of the Southeast for logistics and shipping that contributes up to 40% of the local economy. No wonder transportation- and manufacturing-related industries employ more people in Nashville than the national average.
Now, let’s dig deeper into each of the individual factors that made up these overall scores. This will show us which cities performed best on specific metrics.
Least competition for jobs
One factor we considered was job market favorability, which we measured by the number of clicks per job posting; relatively fewer clicks per post indicate lower competition for jobs. On this measure, tech hotspots San Jose and San Francisco command the highest job market favorability, indicating less competition for jobs.
Though both cities are flooded with tech workers and companies, they face talent shortages for both tech and lower-wage jobs, partly due to high housing costs. These cities are followed by Seattle, home to Amazon and Microsoft, and then state capitals Minneapolis-St. Paul and Salt Lake City.
Highest salary score
Because salaries have been adjusted for cost of living, the cities that rank highest on our salary measure are not necessarily where the highest paychecks come from, but rather are where workers’ dollars go the furthest. All of our top five cities make the list partially because the prices of rent and goods there are lower than the national average. The Midwest and South dominate, with Birmingham boasting the highest adjusted salaries on our list. This is followed by Memphis, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Indianapolis.
Best company reviews
The Golden State dominates the top five cities as measured by company reviews. San Jose, California — home to top-rated workplaces such as Facebook and Adobe — comes in second. This is followed by San Diego (where workers love Intuit); Los Angeles (where Vans is top-rated); and San Francisco. California cities were edged out only by another warm locale: Miami, whose company reviews come in first.
Lowest unemployment rate
Nashville, Tennessee, offers the lowest unemployment rate of all U.S. cities, spurred by growth in finance and legal jobs and a strong tourism industry. This is followed by San Jose, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Boston.
Ultimately, the choice of where to pursue a career is deeply personal. The most important criteria for each person will be slightly different. Having an idea of what prospects are like in a city, however, can help job seekers and companies alike make informed decisions about where to invest their time and energy.