's Salary Value Index

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

" uncovered the top (and bottom) US metros for building personal net worth, taking into account local salaries, cost of living, and unemployment relative to the national average." 

Are you considering moving to a new town? Maybe your earnings just aren't up to par with the cost of living in your current city. Perhaps you're even having trouble finding a job. If so, it may be time to look at one of the cities at the top of's Salary Value Index. The compensation experts at uncovered the top (and bottom) US metros for building personal net worth, taking into account local salaries, cost of living, and unemployment relative to the national average. Median base pay was correlated across more than 2,500 different benchmark jobs in the calculations. Housing costs, living costs, and metro unemployment/job growth figures were also used to rank the metro areas.

Take a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 Salary Value Index cities. Click to see sample salary ranges (for an entry level accountant) or click on the city to view cost of living information. Compare the differences between the metros. Try out your own job title to see if you should move to one of these profitable cities:

Top 10 Cities
Sample Salaries and Jobs
Huntsville, AL
Salaries and Jobs
Birmingham, AL
Salaries and Jobs
Knoxville, TN
Salaries and Jobs
Reading, PA
Salaries and Jobs
York, PA
Salaries and Jobs
Harrisburg, PA
Salaries and Jobs
Pensacola, FL
Salaries and Jobs
Tulsa, OK
Salaries and Jobs
Peoria, IL
Salaries and Jobs
Las Vegas, NV
Salaries and Jobs

Bottom 10 Cities
Sample Salaries and Jobs
New York, NY
Salaries and Jobs
San Francisco, CA
Salaries and Jobs
Honolulu, HI
Salaries and Jobs
Stamford, CT
Salaries and Jobs
Washington, DC
Salaries and Jobs
Los Angeles, CA
Salaries and Jobs
Boston, MA
Salaries and Jobs
New Orleans, LA
Salaries and Jobs
Fresno, CA
Salaries and Jobs
San Diego, CA
Salaries and Jobs
Source: June 2006

The Top 5
#1 Huntsville, Alabama

Two cities in Alabama landed at the top of the 2006 Salary Value Index list, Huntsville, Alabama at #1. Huntsville is the oldest city in Alabama and calls itself the "space capital" of America. It also boasts some of the highest salary levels in the South, ranking #127 in wages out of the 188 cities on the list. This is due to Huntsville's demand for highly skilled labor. In fact, Sarasota, FL is the only city on the 2006 list that has a lower unemployment rate than Huntsville. The "space capital" is also in the top 10 in terms of cost of living index. Huntsville is becoming a staple in the top 5 of the Salary Value Index, ranking #2 in 2005.

#2 Birmingham, Alabama

Head south from Huntsville down Interstate 65 and you'll reach the #2 Salary Value Index city of 2006, Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham is known for its southern charm, state parks, and golf courses. It is also known for its good wages, low cost of living, and large amount of job opportunities. Birmingham is in the top 10 in cost of living and employment rate, and ranks just below its neighbor Huntsville when it comes to wages.

#3 Knoxville, Tennessee

Also representing the South in the 2006 Salary Value Index is the Appalachian city of Knoxville, Tennessee. Knoxville is known for the Tennessee River, Great Smoky Mountains, and the University of Tennessee. As Knoxville's population has grown, local average annual salary levels have also grown. Knoxville ranks #144 out the 188 cities profiled when it comes to average salary level. The high wage rank, coupled with the #1 cost of living index in the nation, has propelled Knoxville to the #3 Salary Value Index city.

#4 Reading, Pennsylvania

Moving out of the South, the city of Reading, Pennsylvania shows up as #4 on's Salary Value Index list. Reading is the 5th largest city in Pennsylvania and is most famous for the Reading Railroad, which once carried coal from the Pennsylvania coal country. Reading has a good balance of Salary Value Index components, including landing in the top 10 in terms of cost of living.

#5 York, Pennsylvania

About an hour from Reading is's #5 Salary Value Index city, York, Pennsylvania. York is known as the White Rose City, as well as the Factory Tour Capital of the World, and is famous for manufacturing weight-training equipment, motorcycles, and HVAC systems. Like its neighbor Reading, York is well-balanced in Salary Value Index components, including above-average wages and a top 20 cost of living index.

The Bottom 5

It's no surprise that the high living costs in metros like New York City and San Francisco have once again landed these cities at the bottom of the Salary Value Index. These cities do have some of the highest average wages in the country, but when it comes time to pay the rent, your checking account may already be empty.

High living costs also deposited the metros of Honolulu, HI; Stamford, CT; and Washington, DC in the bottom 5 Salary Value Index cities. Methodology is the leading provider of detailed compensation information. Through continual analysis, tracks up-to-date salary information for more than 2,500 job titles in all industries and metros. This information is available online through the Salary Wizard. also tracks cost of living through the Cost of Living Wizard.

In creating the Salary Value Index, correlated the latest city-by-city pay information against a "market basket" of living costs that included property values and staples such as food and energy. Unemployment rates per metro area were also considered. Metro areas of 250,000 or more residents were included. A metro area is defined as a radius around the city that is generally commutable for an employee.