's Salary Value Index

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

New London topped our list with salary ranges above the national average, a low cost of living, and a low unemployment rate. 

Are you living beyond your means? Is your paycheck not stretching far enough? Perhaps you're even having trouble finding a job. Maybe it's time to jump a plane to one of the cities at the top of's "Salary Value" index. We found 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 our calculations. Housing costs, living costs, and metro unemployment/job growth figures were also used to rank the metro areas. The results may surprise you.

Check out the Top 5 and Bottom 5 "Salary Value" cities. Click to see sample salary ranges (for an entry level accountant) and cost of living indices. 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 5 Cities 
Rank City  Sample Salaries and Jobs
1 New London, CT Salaries and Jobs
2 Huntsville, AL Salaries and Jobs
3 Baltimore, MD  Salaries and Jobs
4 Harrisburg, PA Salaries and Jobs
5 Tulsa, OK Salaries and Jobs

Bottom 5 Cities  
Rank City  Sample Salaries and Jobs
188 New York, NY Salaries and Jobs
187 San Francisco, CA Salaries and Jobs
186 Stamford, CT Salaries and Jobs
185 San Jose, CA Salaries and Jobs
184 San Diego, CA Salaries and Jobs
Source: May 2005  

Big Business, Big Revitalization

The cities that topped our list have all been regarded as "Renaissance" or "revitalized" cities, perhaps as a result of the influx of large corporations and federal defense spending. Chart-topper New London, CT is the new research and development headquarters of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, as well as home to a US Naval and Coast Guard base (slated to be closed).

Huntsville, AL, which landed second on the list of cities with the best "Salary Value", has seen a substantial increase in scientists and engineers who have come to work for NASA and the US Army's Redstone Arsenal. Increased Homeland Security spending has also drawn highly skilled workers to the National Security Agency, which is based in the Baltimore (#3) metropolitan area.

The top cities on our list have all enjoyed recent industrial strength and revitalization. Baltimore's Inner Harbor has transformed into a vibrant scene. New condos and renovated townhouses on the Baltimore waterfront also carry relatively low price tags. The same is true for the Harrisburg, PA (#4) metro, which has achieved unprecedented revival from being ranked the #2 most distressed city in the nation in the 1980s.

The Top 5

#1 New London, Connecticut

Have you ever considered becoming a resident of the historic whaling port of New London, Connecticut? An old colonial town founded in 1646, New London is set between New York and Boston and is home to the US Coast Guard Academy, as well as Connecticut College. But this colonial gem is not stuck in the past. New London topped our list with salary ranges above the national average, a low cost of living, and a low unemployment rate.

Pfizer's recent $300 million dollar investment in the Pfizer Global Research and Development Headquarters has revitalized the New London waterfront and spurred an increase in jobs, particularly ones calling for highly skilled labor. Increased defense spending on the US Navy and Coast Guard may have also helped boost New London to the top of our list. So reserve your spot today, as the city limits are only 5.5 square miles wide.

#2 Huntsville, Alabama

Need a little more space to store that extra cash? How about Huntsville, Alabama? Huntsville is one of the oldest cities in Alabama, and calls itself the "space capital" of America. That's outer space. Huntsville rocketed to the #2 "Salary Value" city.

Huntsville, AL is a turn of the century town that has suddenly become a technology powerhouse partly because of the city's relatively low cost of doing business. While most of Huntsville's workers were cotton farmers up until 1950, NASA and the Redstone Arsenal are now luring highly skilled engineers and scientists to the area. The Huntsville metro enjoys some of the highest median salaries in the South, as well as the largest concentration of engineers in the country.

#3 Baltimore, Maryland

Perhaps you like the big city feel, but the high living costs of New York and San Francisco have emptied your bank account. The #3 "Salary Value" city may be just the place for you. It has the Orioles and the Ravens, and many other feathered residents at the Baltimore Zoo. Baltimore, Maryland is the largest metro in the Top 5 with 629,000 residents within the city limits. The newly revived Baltimore waterfront has plenty of places for the residents to spend their personal wealth.

Baltimore is not only home to many National Security Agency employees, but is also becoming a popular place for retirees. Residents have been drawn to Baltimore by the wide new selection of relatively inexpensive real estate.

#4 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Head 70 miles north from Baltimore, pick up the Susquehanna River, and you'll find yourself in the capital city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which ranked as the #4 "Salary Value" city. Harrisburg has recently been recognized as one of the most revitalized cities in the nation and has come a long way in business and culture from being considered a distressed city in the early 1980s.

#5 Tulsa, Oklahoma

Rounding out the Top 5 "Salary Value" cities is the booming Oklahoma town of Tulsa. Tulsa is the second largest city in Oklahoma with 393,000 residents within the city limits, and is expected to gain 30,000 more inhabitants by 2010. Tulsa isn't your typical Oklahoma oil patch town. It's one of America's top industry leaders in aerospace, oil and gas, and technology. Extremely low business and living costs have made the metro a hotspot for entrepreneurs. A low unemployment rate has also helped power Tulsa onto our Top 5.

The Bottom 5

It's no surprise that the high living costs in metros like New York and San Francisco made them two of the hardest places for employees to make a profit. More money may be deposited into your checking account every pay period, but when it's time to pay the rent, your checking account may be empty. Salaries in New York City are 17% higher than the national average, but the cost of living is 94% higher. This makes NYC possibly the hardest place to get your bank account into the black. Of course, New York's 8 million residents have found other reasons, such as art and culture, to live in the Big Apple.

High living costs also deposited the metros of Stamford, CT; San Jose, CA; and San Diego, CA in the Bottom 5 "Salary Value" 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.