Best-Paying Places for Nurses – 2021 Study

 An increasing number of nurses are trading in traditional hospital-staffing positions for higher-paying temporary jobs with traveling nurse agencies. The difference in pay is often significant. The Associated Press reported in September 2021 that nurses working for traveling nurse agencies make $70 to $90 per hour on average, which is two to three times higher than what most hospitals pay their staff nurses. Though looking into an agency may be a great opportunity for some nurses, not all may be willing to travel on a regular basis. For nurses that are looking to put down roots in one area and want to see where they can earn the most, SmartAsset identified the best-paying places for nurses. 

To do so, we compared 50 of the largest metro areas across four metrics. They include average registered nurse earnings, two-year change in registered nurse pay, registered nurse pay relative to average pay and housing costs as a percentage of average registered nurse pay. For more information on our data and process, read the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • California metro areas rank well. Six of the top 10 metro areas in our study are in the state of California. They include the Sacramento, San Francisco, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Diego metro areas. Across those six areas, registered nurses earn almost $127,500 on average.
  • Registered nurses earn more than twice what the average worker earns in two metro areas. The ratio between average earnings for registered nurses and average earnings for all workers is greater than 2.00 in two areas: Sacramento—Roseville—Arden-Arcade, California and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California. Across all 50 metro areas in the study, nurses earn only 1.42 times more than all workers on average.
  • Pay for nurses has been stagnant in some areas. From 2018 to 2020, average pay for registered nurses rose by 5.96% nationally. This is slightly less than the increase in average pay for all workers, which grew by 8.37% over the same time. However, pay for nurses has not risen in all metro areas. In three of the 50 metro areas in our study, average pay for registered nurses rose by less than 1% between the two years. Those metro areas include Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin; St. Louis, Missouri-Illinois; and Birmingham-Hoover, Alabama.
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