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The Best (& Worst) States for Registered Nurses in 2020

Make your next move based on the states that offer RNs the job opportunities, salaries, and overall quality of life.

January 24, 2020

Image - Best States for Nurses 2018

Here’s some great news: According to U.S. News & World Reports’ Best Jobs of 2020 rankings, registered nurses cracked the list of the top 10 best healthcare jobs in the U.S.!

Coming in at #9 (and #13 for Best Overall Job), RNs have a whole lot to look forward to when it comes to their career trajectory. Though the median salary ($71,730) is a little lower than other healthcare professions on the list, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that RN jobs will grow by about 12.1 percent between 2018 and 2028 – which will translate into about 371,500 new job openings during that time. This means that, over the course of the next 8 years, you and your peers will be in extremely high demand.

That said, these opportunities will differ from state to state, so the real question is: Which states will give you the BEST chances for professional — and personal — satisfaction?

The Best & Worst States for Registered Nurses

The Metrics

To help you answer this question, we identified four key factors that contribute to whether a state is considered the “best” or “worst” for an RN to live in:

  • Job Demand
  • Salaries
  • Affordability/Cost of Living
  • Quality of Life

Then, we pulled all the most recent data for these factors and identified the best and worst states for RNs in 2020.

The Results

Take a look at the following infographic to see which states came out on top -- and which didn't:


Best and worst states for RNs based on salary, affordability, and quality of life

Want to dig a little deeper into the data? Below, you'll find tables for the top five and bottom five states for each metric. And, at the very bottom of this article, you'll also find the full datasets we pulled from.

The States With the Most & Least Demand for Registered Nurses

First, we wanted to know which states will have the greatest need for RNs in the near future. (Or, in other words, which states will have the most RN jobs available.) In turn, we also wanted to know which states would have the least need for RNs.

Below, we’ve shared job growth projection numbers from Projections Central to show you the five states that are predicted to have the biggest number of RN job openings between 2016 and 2026, and the five that are predicted to have the smallest number of openings. For each state, we've also provided the percentage of job growth each can expect to see by 2026.

The 5 States Projected To Have Most Demand for Registered Nurses

These are the five states that are projected to have the most RN jobs open up each year between now and 2026, on average. (It’s worth noting that these states also happen to make the list for the top 10 most populated states in 2019.)

States With Most Demand for RNs

Rank State Average Annual Job Openings for RNs Job Growth Percentage (2016-2026)
1 California 19,940 16.2%
2 Texas 16,980 24.1%
3 New York 14,990 20.1%
4 Florida 14,310 21.4%
5 Pennsylvania 9,940 13.4%

The 5 States Projected To Have the Least Demand for Registered Nurses

These are the five states that are projected to have the least amount of jobs open up each year between now and 2026. (Here, it makes sense that some of the least-populous states would have fewer jobs available than those with larger populations.)

States With Least Demand for RNs

Rank State Average Annual Job Openings for RNs Job Growth Percentage (2016-2026)
46 Rhode Island 740 6.8%
47 North Dakota 660 19.8%
48 Alaska 420 20.8%
49 Vermont 400 13%
50 Wyoming 360 17.3%

The Highest- & Lowest-Paying States for Registered Nurses

Once we knew which states had the most job availability, we then wanted to focus on RNs' earning potential in each state.

Below, we’ve provided data from the BLS to show you the five states that offer the highest salaries for RNs, as well as the five that offer the lowest.

Keep in mind that all BLS data reflects the employment and wage numbers for RNs as of May 2018. We'll update these tables when the BLS releases their 2019 data in May 2020.

The 5 Highest-Paying States for Registered Nurses

If you’re looking to earn a salary on the higher end of the pay scale, these are the states where you could make the most money as an RN.

Highest-Paying States for RNs

Rank State Average Annual Salary for RNs Average Hourly Pay for RNs
1 California $106,950 $51.42
2 Hawaii $98,080 $47.16
3 Massachusetts $92,140 $44.30
4 Oregon $91,080 $43.79
5 Alaska $89,310 $42.94

The 5 Lowest-Paying States for Registered Nurses

Here are the five states where you could make the least amount of money as an RN.

Lowest-Paying States for RNs

Rank State Average Annual Salary for RNs Average Hourly Pay for RNs
46 Arkansas $60,780 $29.22
47 Alabama $59,470 $28.59
48 Iowa $59,130 $28.43
49 Mississippi $58,490 $28.12
50 South Dakota $58,340 $28.05

The Most & Least Affordable States for Registered Nurses

When considering your job growth and 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 better and more realistic picture of your earning potential state by state, we turned to U.S. News & World Report's Best States of 2019 Rankings. This ranking took into account each state's performance across 71 different metrics. (We'll revisit this list in more detail later.) For the purposes of this section, we focused on just one of their factors: Affordibility. U.S. News & World Report analysts gave each state scores for cost of living and housing affordability. Based on those scores, each state then received an overall affordability ranking on a scale of 1 to 50, with 1 being the most affordable and 50 being the least. Below, we've shared the five states that ranked highest and lowest in this category, as well as their scores for the two metrics so you can see how they contributed to each state's rank.

Keep in mind that U.S. News & World Report last updated their rankings in May 2019. We'll update the tables below when they release the new data in May 2020.

The 5 Most Affordable States for Registered Nurses

Here are the five states that are most affordable for RNs to live in.

Most Affordable States for RNs

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 Registered Nurses

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

Least Affordable States for RNs

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

The Best & Worst States for Overall Quality of Life

After we identified the best states for RN career stability and salary potential, we finally turned our attention to the states that could provide RNs with the best (and worst) quality of life.

For this metric, we turned again to U.S. News & World Report's 2019 Best States Rankings. Analysts gave each state performance scores for the following eight categories:

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

Then, the analysts used those scores to give each state an overall ranking. 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 & World Report releases their new rankings in May 2020.

The 5 Best States for Overall Quality of Life

Below, you'll find the five best states for RN's overall quality of life, along with their scores for the eight different performance categories.

Best States for RNs' 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

Below, you'll find the five worst states for RNs' overall quality of life, along with their scores for the eight different performance categories.

Worst States for RNs' 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

Any Triple-Hitters?

Unfortunately, no one state has it all. While California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts secured the #1, 2, and 3 spots for RN salaries, respectively, each missed the mark when it came to affordability. (In fact, they all made it into the bottom five for that metric.) And although Pennsylvania and Texas both ranked high on the list in terms of job growth, they fell to the middle of the pack for salaries and the bottom of the pack for quality of life.

BONUS: National Registered Nurse Data

As promised, here are the full datasets we used to identify the best and worst states for RNs in terms of projected demand/job growth, salary, affordability, and quality of life. If your state didn't make any of the lists above, take a look at the following tables to see what's in store for RNs in your neck of the woods.

Projected Job Growth for Registered Nurses, Nationwide

State Average Annual Job Openings for RNs Job Growth Percentage (2016-2026)
Alabama 3,270 12.9%
Alaska 420 20.8%
Arizona 5,540 37.3%
Arkansas 1,720 15.7%
California 19,940 16.2%
Colorado 4,720 35.7%
Connecticut 2,130 9.2%
Delaware 760 14.3%
Florida 14,310 21.4%
Georgia 5,410 18.3%
Hawaii 770 13.3%
Idaho 1,150 29.4%
Illinois 8,700 15.4%
Indiana 4,610 16.5%
Iowa 2,270 14.4%
Kansas 1,870 10%
Kentucky 3,040 12.1%
Louisiana 3,010 13.6%
Maine 940 11.1%
Maryland 3,350 11.4%
Massachusetts 5,510 12.8%
Michigan 6,650 13.5%
Minnesota 4,200 11.1%
Mississippi 1,860 10%
Missouri 5,180 15.8%
Montana 760 18.5%
Nebraska 1,600 11.6%
Nevada 1,750 27.3%
New Hampshire 910 13.9%
New Jersey 5,730 12.3%
New Mexico 1,180 12.9%
New York 14,990 20.1%
North Carolina 7,060 15.7%
North Dakota 660 19.8%
Ohio 8,850 14.2%
Oklahoma 2,070 10.1%
Oregon 2,630 16.8%
Pennsylvania 9,940 13.4%
Rhode Island 740 6.8%
South Carolina 3,130 18.6%
South Dakota 840 13.9%
Tennessee 4,320 18.9%
Texas 16,980 24.1%
Utah 2,090 36%
Vermont 400 13%
Virginia 4,430 14.4%
Washington 4,460 20.7%
West Virginia 1,490 13.3%
Wisconsin 3,470 8.3%
Wyoming 360 17.3%

Source: Projections Central - Long-Term Occupational Projections for 2016-2026 (July 2019)

Registered Nurse Salaries, Nationwide

State Average Annual Salary for RNs Average Hourly Pay for RNs
Alabama $59,470 $28.59
Alaska $89,310 $42.94
Arizona $77,000 $37.02
Arkansas $60,780 $29.22
California $106,950 $51.42
Colorado $74,240 $35.69
Connecticut $81,220 $39.05
Delaware $74,800 $35.96
Florida $66,210 $31.83
Georgia $68,950 $33.15
Hawaii $98,080 $47.16
Idaho $67,110 $32.26
Illinois $73,890 $35.53
Indiana $64,860 $31.18
Iowa $59,130 $28.43
Kansas $61,030 $29.34
Kentucky $63,100 $30.34
Louisiana $63,970 $30.76
Maine $67,610 $32.51
Maryland $76,820 $36.93
Massachusetts $92,140 $44.30
Michigan $71,330 $34.29
Minnesota $78,920 $37.94
Mississippi $58,490 $28.12
Missouri $65,130 $31.31
Montana $67,450 $32.43
Nebraska $64,470 $31.00
Nevada $85,620 $41.16
New Hampshire $72,760 $34.98
New Jersey $82,750 $39.78
New Mexico $71,730 $34.49
New York $85,610 $41.16
North Carolina $64,850 $31.18
North Dakota $65,740 $31.61
Ohio $66,820 $32.13
Oklahoma $63,080 $30.33
Oregon $91,080 $43.79
Pennsylvania $70,390 $33.84
Rhode Island $78,420 $37.70
South Carolina $64,940 $31.22
South Dakota $58,340 $28.05
Tennessee $61,320 $29.48
Texas $72,890 $35.04
Utah $65,670 $31.57
Vermont $69,160 $33.25
Virginia $69,790 $33.55
Washington $82,670 $39.75
West Virginia $61,780 $29.70
Wisconsin $71,470 $34.36
Wyoming $67,360 $32.38

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2018)

Affordability Rankings, Nationwide

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
6 Nebraska 21 5
7 Missouri 4 11
8 West Virginia 20 8
9 Kansas 8 12
10 Pennsylvania 30 4
11 North Dakota 27 6
12 Arkansas 3 14
13 Kentucky 14 13
14 South Dakota 29 10
15 Mississippi 1 18
16 Wisconsin 22 15
17 Illinois 23 16
18 Georgia 11 19
19 Alabama 6 20
20 Louisiana 17 22
21 Minnesota 31 17
22 Tennessee 7 28
23 Texas 12 27
24 North Carolina 19 30
25 New Mexico 15 34
26 New Hampshire 36 21
27 South Carolina 25 33
28 Wyoming 10 38
29 Delaware 35 31
30 Arizona 26 37
31 Virginia 32 35
32 Idaho 18 40
33 Maine 39 26
34 New Jersey 41 23
35 Florida 28 42
36 Utah 24 44
37 Vermont 40 32
38 Rhode Island 41 29
39 Montana 33 43
40 Maryland 46 25
41 Connecticut 47 24
42 Nevada 38 45
43 Colorado 34 48
44 Washington 37 46
45 Alaska 44 36
46 Massachusetts 43 41
47 New York 48 39
48 Oregon 45 47
49 California 49 49
50 Hawaii 50 50

Source: U.S. News & World Report's Best States 2019 Rankings (May 2019)

Quality of Life Rankings, Nationwide

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
6 Maryland 8 13 26 21 5 15 22 25
7 Virginia 18 7 25 35 9 8 9 18
8 Massachusetts 2 1 7 44 29 30 4 26
9 Nebraska 27 6 21 9 15 7 24 27
10 Colorado 12 11 1 8 28 29 29 31
11 Wisconsin 14 14 24 30 6 14 30 10
12 New Jersey 6 2 31 34 8 49 6 13
13 Florida 29 3 9 14 38 2 31 21
14 Iowa 20 9 32 23 2 17 19 32
15 North Dakota 38 20 35 5 4 13 18 28
16 Idaho 26 33 6 29 35 11 8 15
17 Georgia 39 30 11 10 21 9 27 20
18 North Carolina 30 25 14 18 36 4 14 36
19 California 7 21 4 32 49 42 23 5
20 South Dakota 32 18 27 16 34 3 40 2
21 Connecticut 3 12 30 46 33 46 7 6
22 Kansas 33 15 36 7 16 35 32 8
23 Delaware 15 23 17 19 23 18 36 47
24 Hawaii 1 29 40 12 46 36 5 16
25 New York 13 22 33 22 47 26 10 24
26 Rhode Island 5 41 20 49 31 31 13 1
27 Oregon 17 36 5 1 43 40 38 30
28 Missouri 41 27 23 25 11 16 44 9
29 Montana 28 26 22 20 42 24 25 22
30 Tennessee 43 35 12 13 26 1 43 37
31 Wyoming 42 16 42 15 22 39 17 17
32 Maine 19 28 37 42 27 28 3 39
33 Michigan 24 37 19 41 14 27 35 29
34 Arizona 23 40 10 11 40 33 42 33
35 Illinois 22 19 41 24 17 50 20 43
36 Indiana 40 24 28 37 12 6 34 48
37 Nevada 31 45 8 4 37 37 39 46
38 Texas 37 34 15 33 39 12 33 40
39 Ohio 35 31 38 27 7 41 28 44
40 Kentucky 44 38 39 26 20 45 11 12
41 Pennsylvania 21 32 44 43 13 38 37 38
42 South Carolina 36 43 16 36 41 20 46 34
43 Oklahoma 47 39 34 39 25 32 41 42
44 Alaska 25 47 46 40 18 48 48 45
45 Arkansas 49 42 43 47 32 21 47 19
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

Source: U.S. News & World Report's Best States 2019 Rankings (May 2019)


Image courtesy of Unsplash.com/John-Mark Smith


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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