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Here Are the Best & Worst States for Registered Nurses in 2021

Young masked female nurse in teal scrubs gives a shot to an older female patient wearing a mask and a blue v-neck shirt.

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:

  • Salary
  • 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
1. Ohio
2. Oklahoma
3. Michigan
4. Iowa
5. Missouri
The 5 Least Affordable States for Nurses
46. Oregon
47. Alaska
48. Massachusetts
49. California
50. Hawaii

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
1. California
2. New York
3. Texas
4. Florida
5. Pennsylvania
The 5 States With the Lowest Projected Demand for Nurse Practitioners
46. Vermont
47. Wyoming
48. Alaska
49. Idaho
50. Mississippi

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
1. Washington
2. Minnesota
3. Utah
4. New Hampshire
5. Idaho
The 5 Worst States for Nurses' Quality of Life
46. Alabama
47. West Virginia
48. New Mexico
49. Mississippi
50. Louisiana

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

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:

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

Image courtesy of iStock.com/Courtney Hale


Last updated on Oct 15, 2021.

Originally published on Jan 24, 2020.

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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