By Kevin Juhasz for Hack Reactor
At the beginning of 2020, it was difficult to find an industry that wasn’t predicted to have some job growth over the next decade. Even sectors that are drifting toward obsolescence were expected to see an uptick simply because the strong economy made qualified employees difficult to find.
What a difference a year and a pandemic make. The most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics still expect job growth across the board, but predict it will be about 20% less than earlier projections.
Numbers for software engineers have also been revised downward, but not as much as the job market overall. While not completely pandemic or recession-proof, software engineering is still a solid career to pursue. Last year, the industry was expected to have a growth of 26% over 10 years. It’s now sitting at around 22%, more than 5 times higher than the national average for all industries.
Bureau of Labor and Statistics Projections
The median salary for software engineers in 2019 was $107,510 per year, which is a solid salary depending on where you reside. Higher salaries tend to be in areas with the highest cost of living. The majority of high-paying jobs are located on the East and West Coast. Colorado, which was strong last year, continues to be an area for good pay. The one state that has moved up is Texas, a state known for its increasing embrace of tech companies.
One of the things to remember when looking at BLS data is that you can’t just look at the state. There is data that also looks at metropolitan areas and individual counties. When you research, you’re bound to discover six-figure salaries in states where overall salaries are lower. Higher paying states will also have pockets of slightly lower salaries but in more affordable areas.
This region of the country has more states offering high salaries than any other. New York, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island are all states that offer mean wages in the $107K-$135K range. The remaining states are all in the $90K-$107K range. Depending on where you live, this could be an excellent salary, a decent salary, or you could be barely getting by.
Pennsylvania is the most affordable state in the region. Delaware and New Hampshire are slightly more affordable than the rest of the region but still fairly high. Virginia also seems affordable, but their figure is based heavily on the Southern and Western portions of the state. The metro areas in northern Virginia, such as Arlington and Alexandria, are very high in price. If you’re able to find a well-paying job in the lower-priced areas of the state, it can be as good as Pennsylvania.
Higher salaries are harder to come by in the southern region, but even this is a region that is improving. North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are very competitive with the northeast and western regions. As you move inland, it can be difficult. West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana are all ranked in the lowest range. One of the benefits of software engineering is that even the low range salary is still better than many other industries. It’s still possible to find salaries around $90K in those states.
The southern region continues to be one of the most affordable areas of the nation to live in. States with higher pay also lean toward higher living costs, but those areas are still below the national index.
With the exception of the Dakotas, all of the states offer salaries in the $90K-$107K range. You’ll have a better chance of finding a six-figure salary if you look in Illinois and Minnesota. North and South Dakota are both in the lowest range.
Another of the most affordable areas to live with only a few states that drift a bit closer to the national average. The further north you go, the more expensive the living can be, and Minnesota has the highest COL index in the region.
Traditionally an area that pays lower, the Midwest is also on the rise. Texas leads the pack by far. Many of the metropolitan areas in the Lone Star state have made a concerted effort to attract tech companies to the area. This is an area where you’re going to find better jobs and better salaries. Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri are also starting to see salaries on the rise. Oklahoma remains the only state in the group that continues to be at the bottom.
With its reasonable cost of living and increasing salaries, the Midwest is becoming the area that has the best balance of pay and expenses. Almost all of the states rank in the top 10 for affordability. Some metro areas will not be as affordable, but it’s still the region that is easiest on the paycheck. This region is also becoming more attractive because the increasing salaries coupled with a steadier COL means that your money will go even further.
This region is also dominated by a single state, Colorado. Like Texas, the state has made great efforts to attract tech companies and their target employees, particularly in the Boulder and Denver areas. Arizona and Utah are also very competitive with the Centennial State, so there is an upswing in those two states. New Mexico, despite being an area that has embraced technology in the past, is behind with Wyoming and most of Montana.
New Mexico is the cheapest state in the region, but it also has the lowest salaries in the area. Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming are all places with decent COL indexes. Colorado has the highest cost of living in this region, but it’s similar to Virginia with regions that skew the numbers. The effect in Colorado is the opposite. The Denver-Boulder region has a very high cost which raises the overall COL. The southwestern region of Colorado is one of the highest paying non-metropolitan areas in the nation and it has a COL of living significantly lower than the Denver metro area and Colorado overall.
California and Washington continue to remain on top on the West Coast, but like the Northeast, it’s a good area to explore no matter which state. Assuming that salary is your only consideration.
The West Coast is notorious for being expensive, especially in California, Oregon, and Washington. Oregon has seen its cost of living increase to the point where it has surpassed New York and is competing with California for the 2nd most expensive state in America. California retains that spot, even with a recent 25% drop in rents in San Francisco. Nevada and Washington are on the expensive side compared with other regions but are more affordable than the other states. Your best bet on the West Coast is absolutely Idaho, which is as affordable as the midwest and is also enjoying a bump in salaries.
Alaska and Hawaii
Both of these states offer some solid salaries, making it fairly easy to find a job above $100K per year. The problem with both states is that they are some of the most expensive in the nation. Alaska has a very high cost of living. Hawaii is undisputed as the most expensive state, offering costs almost twice as high as the national average.
Most Expensive Metro Areas:
1. Anchorage, AK
2. Bergen County and Passaic County, NJ
3. Fairbanks, AK
4. Portland, OR
5. Stamford, CT
6. Alexandria, VA
7. San Diego, CA
8. Bethesda, MD
9. Los Angeles, CA
10. Queens, NY
Salary and Cost of Living by State:
Salary Data – Bureau of Labor and Statistics
Metropolitan Cost of Living – Sperling’s Best Places
Non-Metropolitan Cost of Living - SmartAsset
Source: Bureau of Labor and Statistics
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