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

We pulled the latest data on job growth projections, salaries, cost of living, and quality of life rankings to identify the best and worst states to work as a nurse.

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 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:

  • Job Demand
  • Salary
  • Affordability/Cost of Living
  • 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.

The Best & Worst States for Nurses in 2020


Map of best & worst states for nurses to work in 2020 based on demand, salary, cost of living, 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 Best & Worst States for Nurses: Demand

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 first 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.

(Reminder: If you'd like to see the full data set for all 50 states and D.C., we've provided it at the bottom of this article.)

The 5 States With the Highest Demand for Nurses, 2018-2028

Rank State Average Number of Nursing Job Openings per Year Job Growth Percentage
1 California 23,850 16.7%
2 New York 16,910 24.6%
3 Texas 16,130 16.8%
4 Florida 14,000 16.1%
5 Pennsylvania 10,510 12.5%

The 5 States With Lowest Demand for Nurses, 2018-2028

Rank State Average Number of Nursing Job Openings per Year Nursing Job Growth Percentage
46 Vermont 430 8.0%
47 Wyoming 380 16.2%
48 Alaska 360 6.8%
49 Idaho 280 19.9%
50 Mississippi 200 6.1%

The Best & Worst States for Nurses: Salary

Next, we decided to focus on 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 and D.C., we've provided it at the bottom of this article.

The 5 Highest-Paying States for Nurses

Rank State Average Annual Salary for RNs Average Hourly Pay for RNs
1 California $113,240 $54.44
2 Hawaii $104,060 $50.03
3 Massachusetts $93,160 $44.79
4 Oregon $92,960 $44.69
5 Alaska $90,500 $43.51

The 5 Lowest-Paying States for Nurses

Rank State Average Annual Salary for RNs Average Hourly Pay for RNs
46 Arkansas $61,330 $29.49
47 Iowa $60,590 $29.13
48 Alabama $60,230 $28.96
49 Mississippi $59,750 $28.73
50 South Dakota $59,540 $28.63

The Best & Worst States for Nurses: Affordability/Cost of Living

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 Nurses

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 Nurses

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 Nurses: Quality of Life

Finally, let's turn 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.

Nationwide Job Growth Projections for Registered Nurses (2018-2028)

State Average Number of Job Openings per Year Job Growth Percentage
Alabama 3,500 10.2%
Alaska 360 6.8%
Arizona 2,110 35.0%
Arkansas 1,850 13.5%
California 23,850 16.7%
Colorado 4,810 29.5%
Connecticut 2,450 7.3%
Delaware 950 20.0%
District of Columbia 770 8.8%
Florida 14,000 16.1%
Georgia 6,340 22.5%
Hawaii 800 12.2%
Idaho 280 19.9%
Illinois 9,260 12.4%
Indiana 4,750 12.4%
Iowa 2,490 15.1%
Kansas 1,970 8.1%
Kentucky 3,280 13.1%
Louisiana N/A N/A
Maine 920 6.5%
Maryland 5,150 21.7%
Massachusetts 5,720 8.2%
Michigan 6,620 9.8%
Minnesota 4,900 12.4%
Mississippi 200 6.1%
Missouri 5,530 16.2%
Montana 700 10.4%
Nebraska 1,790 11.1%
Nevada 540 22.3%
New Hampshire 960 12.7%
New Jersey 5,780 11.3%
New Mexico 1,240 11.3%
New York 16,910 24.6%
North Carolina 7,020 10.8%
North Dakota 730 16.5%
Ohio 8,360 9.6%
Oklahoma 2,310 9.1%
Oregon 3,010 15.2%
Pennsylvania 10,510 12.5%
Rhode Island 760 4.0%
South Carolina 2,930 9.4%
South Dakota 910 13.1%
Tennessee 4,290 12.3%
Texas 16,130 16.8%
Utah 2,090 28.2%
Vermont 430 8.0%
Virginia 4,500 11.7%
Washington 5,800 20.3%
West Virginia 1,550 14.9%
Wisconsin 3,600 7.8%
Wyoming 380 16.2%

Source: Projections Central - Long-Term Occupational Projections for 2018-2028 (Last updated April 2020)

National Data for Registered Nurse Salaries (May 2019)

State Average Annual Salary for RNs Average Hourly Pay for RNs
Alabama $60,230 $28.96
Alaska $90,500 $43.51
Arizona $78,330 $37.66
Arkansas $61,330 $29.49
California $113,240 $54.44
Colorado $76,230 $36.65
Connecticut $83,440 $40.12
Delaware $74,100 $35.63
Distict of Columbia $94,820 $45.59
Florida $67,610 $32.50
Georgia $69,590 $33.46
Hawaii $104,060 $50.03
Idaho $69,480 $33.40
Illinois $73,510 $35.34
Indiana $66,560 $32.00
Iowa $60,590 $29.13
Kansas $62,450 $30.02
Kentucky $63,750 $30.65
Louisiana $65,850 $31.66
Maine $69,760 $33.54
Maryland $77,910 $37.46
Massachusetts $93,160 $44.79
Michigan $73,200 $35.19
Minnesota $80,130 $38.52
Mississippi $59,750 $28.73
Missouri $64,160 $30.85
Montana $69,340 $33.34
Nebraska $66,640 $32.04
Nevada $88,380 $42.49
New Hampshire $73,880 $35.52
New Jersey $84,280 $40.52
New Mexico $73,300 $35.24
New York $87,840 $42.23
North Carolina $66,440 $31.94
North Dakota $66,290 $31.87
Ohio $68,220 $32.80
Oklahoma $64,800 $31.15
Oregon $92,960 $44.69
Pennsylvania $71,410 $34.33
Rhode Island $82,310 $39.57
South Carolina $64,840 $31.17
South Dakota $59,540 $28.63
Tennessee $62,570 $30.08
Texas $74,540 $35.84
Utah $67,970 $32.68
Vermont $70,240 $33.77
Virginia $71,870 $34.56
Washington $86,170 $41.43
West Virginia $63,220 $30.39
Wisconsin $72,610 $34.91
Wyoming $68,690 $33.03

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019)

National Affordability Rankings (2019)

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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