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Here Are the Best (& Worst) States for Physical Therapists in 2019

We pulled state-level data on salaries, affordability, job growth, and quality of life rankings to determine the best and worst states for PTs to live in 2019.

Aug 22, 2019

Small book map of North America
Image via Unsplash.com/REVOLT

In 2019, U.S. News & World Report ranked physical therapy as the 16th best job in healthcare, and the 20th best job on its overall 100 Best Jobs list. If that wasn’t enough, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that physical therapy can be a particularly lucrative career as well; as of May 2017, the average annual salary for a physical therapist was $88,080. However, if you’re on the hunt for a new position, it’s important to consider other factors beyond just how much money you’ll be making.

For instance, if you’re relocating, it could be helpful to know just how high the demand is for talented PTs in your new area. You might move to a state with high PT salaries, but also has very few job openings — meaning that whatever jobs are available will be very competitive. Conversely, you could move to an area with a ton of job opportunities but an incredibly high cost of living — meaning that most of your hard-earned salary would be going purely to living expenses.

See what we mean?

With a little more knowledge about the job market, you’ll be able to make a much more informed decision for your career. We’ve tried to make this a little easier by ranking the states along a few different metrics. Below, you'll find out which states made it into the top five — and bottom five — for:

  • Physical therapist salaries
  • Affordability/cost of living
  • Demand for physical therapists
  • Quality of life rankings

Now, let's dive into the data!

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The States With the Highest & Lowest Physical Therapy Salaries

PTs do important, sometimes grueling work rehabilitating patients and treating chronic conditions. But does the salary reflect all that effort? Below, we’ve provided data from the BLS’ Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program to show you which five states offer the highest salaries for PTs, and which five offer the lowest. Keep in mind that all BLS data reflects the employment and wage numbers for PTs as of May 2018.

The 5 States With the Highest Physical Therapist Salaries

Here are the five states where PTs can make the most money.

Rank State Average Annual Salary for Physical Therapists Average Hourly Pay for Physical Therapists
1 Nevada $107,920 $51.89
2 Alaska $99,180 $47.68
3 New Jersey $97,770 $47.01
4 New Mexico $97,210 $46.74
5 California $97,110 $46.69

The 5 States With the Lowest Physical Therapist Salaries

Here are the five states where PTs could make the least amount of money. When reviewing this list, keep in mind that the average annual salary for U.S. workers was $51,960 in 2018. In that light, these numbers are still impressive.

Rank State Average Annual Salary for Physical Therapists Average Hourly Pay for Physical Therapists
46 North Dakota $78,120 $37.56
47 Idaho $77,700 $37.35
48 Maine $76,910 $36.97
49 South Dakota $76,200 $36.63
50 Vermont $75,010 $36.06

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The Most & Least Affordable States for Physical Therapists

When considering salaries and earning potential in different states, one important aspect to keep in mind is cost of living. Why? Think about it: If you have a high-paying job in a state that tends to have a very high cost of living, then you would expect to see most (if not all) of your paycheck going toward your living expenses. Conversely, if you had an average salary in a state with a low cost of living, you’d be more likely to have some money left over to spend however you wanted.

To help you get a better picture of your earning potential in different states, we turned to U.S. News's 2019 Affordability Rankings, which was part of their larger Overall Best States of 2019 ranking (more on this later). To determine how affordable each state was, U.S. News gave them scores on two metrics: Cost of living and housing affordability. Based on those scores, each state then received an overall ranking on a scale of 1 to 50, with 1 being the most affordable and 50 being the least affordable.

The 5 Most Affordable States for Physical Therapists

Here are the five states that are most affordable to live in. We've also included their scores for the individual metrics to give you more context.

Rank State Cost of Living Score Housing Affordability Score
1 Iowa 13 1
2 Ohio 16 2
3 Indiana 9 3
4 Oklahoma 2 7
5 Michigan 5 9

The 5 Least Affordable States for Physical Therapists

Here are the five states that are least affordable to live in.

Rank State Cost of Living Score Housing Affordability Score
46 Massachusetts 43 41
47 New York 48 39
48 Oregon 45 47
49 California 49 49
50 Hawaii 50 50

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The States With the Most & Least Demand for Physical Therapists

It’s a safe assumption that the more job openings there are, the greater the need is for PTs. The BLS projects that demand for PTs will grow by about 28 percent between now and 2026, due in large part to the growing needs of the aging baby boomer population. Below, we’ve provided additional projection numbers from Projections Central to show you the five states that are predicted to have the most job openings for PTs between now and 2026, and the five that are predicted to have the least.

The 5 States With the Most Demand for Physical Therapists

These are the five states that are projected to have the most PT jobs open up each year between now and 2026, on average. (It’s worth noting that these states also happen to be the top 5 most-populated states in the U.S. in 2019.) We’ve also provided the percentage of job growth each state can expect to see by 2026.

Rank State Average Annual Job Openings for Physical Therapists Job Growth Percentage (2016-2026)
1 California 1,640 28.8%
2 New York 1,490 32.7%
3 Texas 1,250 31.2%
4 Florida 1,070 31.8%
5 Pennsylvania 790 23.9%

The 5 States With the Least Demand for Physical Therapists

Here are the five states that are predicted to have the least number of PT jobs open up each year between now and 2026. It’s worth keeping in mind that it would make sense that some of the least-populous states would have fewer jobs available than those with larger populations.
You’ll notice that there are some two-way ties in the number of job openings. Within those tied pairs, we ranked them based on who had the higher job growth percentage.

Rank State Cost of Living Score Housing Affordability Score
46 South Dakota 50 20%
47 Rhode Island 50 9.8%
48 District of Columbia 40 20.6%
49 Wyoming 30 28.9%
50 Alaska 30 22%

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The States With the Best & Worst Overall Quality of Life

Everyone has a different way of defining “quality of life,” so to establish a standard unit of measurement, we turned to the latest data from the U.S. News’ 2019 Best States Rankings. To determine each state's rank, they first provided them with performance scores for each of the following eight metrics:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Economy
  • Infrastructure
  • Opportunity
  • Fiscal Stability
  • Crime & Corrections
  • Natural Environment

The scores were on a scale of 1 to 50, with 1 being the best and 50 best the worst. They then used those scores to provide an overall ranking for each state. (You can read more about their methodology here.) Below, we've provided you with the rankings for the top five and bottom five, along with their scores for each metric.

What’s notable about this list is that the top five states are all northern, mostly suburban or rural states. Meanwhile, the states with the lowest quality of life tended to have more metro areas and larger populations.

The 5 Best States for Overall Quality of Life

Rank State Healthcare Score Education Score Economy Score Infrastructure Score Opportunity Score Fiscal Stability Score Crime & Corrections Score Natural Environment Score
1 Washington 4 4 3 2 19 22 15 14
2 New Hampshire 16 5 13 31 1 10 1 4
3 Minnesota 10 17 18 6 3 25 16 3
4 Utah 9 10 2 3 24 5 12 49
5 Vermont 11 8 29 28 10 19 2 7

The 5 Worst States for Overall Quality of Life

Rank State Healthcare Score Education Score Economy Score Infrastructure Score Opportunity Score Fiscal Stability Score Crime & Corrections Score Natural Environment Score
46 New Mexico 34 49 47 17 48 47 49 23
47 West Virginia 48 44 50 50 30 34 21 41
48 Mississippi 50 46 48 45 44 44 26 11
49 Alabama 46 50 45 38 45 23 45 35
50 Louisiana 45 48 49 48 50 43 50 50

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All Things Considered

If you want to find your ideal job, you’ll need to know where you’re needed and what you’re worth. And before you jump on the first job offer that comes your way, take a moment to pause, breathe, and do your homework. You might find that not everything about the opportunity aligns with your priorities, whether for your career or your personal life.

For example, you might be eyeing a high-paying PT gig in New York. But, as enticing as the big paycheck is, keep in mind that New York also came in at #47 in terms of overall affordability. Same goes for that flashy job you saw posted in New Mexico. Although it took the #4 spot for highest PT salaries, it came in at #46 for quality of life. On the other hand, Vermont took the #5 spot for quality of life, but ended up in dead last when it came to PT salary.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what’s most important to you at this point in your career. Make sure to identify all the categories that define “success” for you, then focus on figuring out which states can provide you with everything you’re looking for to live your best life possible.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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