Here’s some great news: according to U.S. News & World Reports’ Best Jobs of 2021 rankings, registered nurses cracked the list of the top 10 best healthcare careers in the U.S.! That said, job opportunities and earning potential will differ from state to state, so the real question is: where will you have the BEST chances for professional — and personal — satisfaction?
To help you answer this question, we identified four key factors that contribute to whether a state can be considered the “best” (or “worst”) to work as a nurse:
- Cost of Living
- Demand/Job Growth
- Quality of Life
For each metric, we pulled the latest data from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and U.S. News & World Report. Then, we identified which states ranked the highest and lowest for nurses along all four categories. Here's what we discovered.
SUMMARY: The Best & Worst States for Nurses in 2021
For your skimming pleasure, here's a high-level summary of the best and worst states for nurses in 2021 across the 5 key metrics.
The Best & Worst States for Nurses: Salary
|The 5 Highest-Paying States for Nurses|
|1. California: $113,240/year|
|2. Hawaii: $104,060/year|
|3. Massachusetts: $93,160/year|
|4. Oregon: $92,960/year|
|5. Alaska: $90,500/year|
|The 5 Lowest-Paying States for Nurses|
|46. Arkansas: $61,330|
|47. Iowa: $60,590|
|48. Alabama: $60,230|
|49. Mississippi: $59,750|
|50. South Dakota: $59,540|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) - "Occupational Employment and
Wages Data for Registered Nurses- May 2019" (Last accessed March 2021)
The Best & Worst States for Nurses: Cost of Living
|The 5 Most Affordable States for Nurses|
|The 5 Least Affordable States for Nurses|
Source: U.S. News & World Report - "Best States of 2021 - Affordability Rankings" (Last accessed March 2021)
The Best & Worst States for Nurses: Demand/Job Growth
|The 5 States With the Highest Projected Demand for Nurses|
|2. New York|
|The 5 States With the Lowest Projected Demand for Nurse Practitioners|
Source: ProjectionsCentral.com - "Long-Term Occupational Projections: 2018-2028" (Last accessed March 2021)
The Best & Worst States for Nurses: Quality of Life
|The 5 Best States for Nurses' Quality of Life|
|4. New Hampshire|
|The 5 Worst States for Nurses' Quality of Life|
|47. West Virginia|
|48. New Mexico|
Source: U.S. News & World Report - "Best States of 2021 Rankings" (Last accessed March 2021)
Registered Nurse Salaries: By State
First, we wanted to find out what your earning potential could be as a nurse working in each state. Below, we’ve shared the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics program to show you the five states where nurses earn the most money and the five where they earn the least.
Keep in mind that all BLS data reflects the employment and wage numbers for nurses as of May 2019. We'll update these tables when they release their 2020 data in May 2021. If you'd like to see the full data set for all 50 states, we've provided it at the bottom of this article.
Cost of Living for Registered Nurses: By State
When considering your earning potential in different states, one important factor to keep in mind is your cost of living. (In other words, the amount of money you'll need to put towards basic living and housing expenses.)
To help you get a more realistic picture of your earning potential, we turned to U.S. News & World Report's Best States of 2021 Rankings and focused on one particular metric: affordability. To determine each state's "affordability score," U.S. News analysts gave each state scores for two sub-metrics: cost of living and housing affordability. Then, each state received an overall affordability ranking on a scale of 1 to 50, with 1 being the most affordable and 50 being the least.
Below, you'll find U.S. News's Affordability rankings for all 50 states, along with their respective scores across the 2 sub-metrics.
2021 Cost of Living Rankings: State by State
|Overall Rank||State||Cost of Living Score||Housing Affordability Score|
Demand/Job Growth for Registered Nurses: By State
When determining whether a state is the "best" or "worst" to work as a nurse, one key factor to consider is not only how much demand there currently is for your particular skillset, but also how much there will be in the future. Right now, you could be living in a state where nurses are getting hired like crazy, but will that be the case five, even 10 years from now? Whether you choose to stay put or move to a new state, you should at least consider what your job prospects will be, both in the short and long term.
To help you out, we focused on finding out which states are projected to have the greatest — and fewest — number of nursing jobs open up within the next eight to 10 years. To do this, we turned to job growth projection data from Projections Central and identified the five states that are predicted to have the greatest average number of nursing job openings between 2018 and 2028, and the five that are predicted to have the fewest.
Quality of Life for Registered Nurses: By State
Finally, we focused our attention on the states that could provide RNs with the best overall quality of life.
For this metric, we turned again to U.S. News's 2019 Best States Rankings and focused on their overall Best States list. For this ranking, analysts gave each state scores for 71 different sub-metrics, all of which were grouped into the following eight categories:
- Fiscal Stability
- Crime & Corrections
- Natural Environment
The analysts took those sub-metric scores and ranked the states for each of the eight key metrics above. Finally, the analysts gave each state an overall rank, based on their performance across those eight categories. States that made the top of the list do the best job of promoting their residents’ well-being, whereas those who made the bottom of the list do the worst job.
Remember: This data was last updated in May 2019. We'll update the tables below when U.S. News releases their new rankings.
Below, we've provided you with quality of life rankings for all 50 states, along with their scores for each of the 8 individual metrics.
2021 Quality of Life Rankings: State by State
|Overall Rank||State||Healthcare Score||Education Score||Economy Score||Infrastructure Score||Opportunity Score||Fiscal Stability Score||Crime & Corrections Score||Natural Environment Score|
Image courtesy of iStock.com/Courtney Hale