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Written by Lotte van RijswijkLotte van Rijswijk

The best cities and states for high-paying entry-level jobs

20 min read
The best cities and states for high-paying entry-level jobs
Entry-level jobs can be the best way to get your foot on the career ladder, but is the pay always bottom rung? We analyzed entry-level job listings all over the United States to find out where in the country you’ll find the best and worst salaries for junior roles.

From the service industry to IT, entry-level jobs are an ideal way to get your start on the career ladder with little to no experience. Even high-flying CEOs like Mary T. Barra of General Motors, Bob Iger of Disney and Chris Rondeau of Planet Fitness began their climb to the top in entry-level roles. 

A typical entry-level salary, however, is not a figure that many people would be content to stick at for the rest of their careers. On average, entry-level jobs in the U.S. pay just over $40,000 a year, which is well below the $65,000 salary point that one in two Americans would find satisfactory.

For those who are able to move across the country for a junior role, an impressive starting salary can seal the deal. Indeed, salary is the number one factor for Gen Z’ers on the job hunt when considering where to work. So — where are the best places in the U.S. for highly-paid entry-level jobs?

Resume.io (a leading resume builder) scoured thousands of entry-level job listings across the U.S. to discover which cities and states are home to a plethora of highly-paid junior roles and which fall short of the mark.  

What we did

For each U.S. state and 223 major cities, we calculated the percentage of local entry-level job listings that offered a salary above and below the state’s median hourly wages.

Key findings

  • 87.8% of entry-level job listings in Bozeman, Montana, offer a salary above the state’s median wage — more than any other U.S. city.
  • In contrast, Washington, D.C., offers the lowest percentage (26.4%) of highly-paid entry-level jobs.
  • South Dakota is the best state to find a high-paying entry-level job (76.1% of listings pay above the median wage).
  • Hawaii ranks as the worst state to find a highly paid entry-level job (66.1% of listings pay below the median wage).

Bozeman, Montana, is home to the highest proportion of highly-paid entry-level jobs

The best city in the U.S. in which to find a highly-paid entry-level job is Bozeman, Montana, where nearly nine in ten (87.8%) entry-level positions being advertised pay more than the state’s median wage. Situated in the scenic Rocky Mountains, Bozeman’s economy is fueled by tourism and a growing tech industry. A lucrative business, employees in the U.S. tech sector can earn up to 85% more than other industries.

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Similarly, in Iowa City, Iowa, the majority (87.7%) of entry-level jobs come with a high salary. The biggest employers in town include the University of Iowa and local hospitals. Core cities in the notoriously expensive Bay Area, Oakland (77.7%) and San Francisco (77.6%), also rank as two of the best cities for highly-paid entry-level roles. 

Washington, D.C., is America’s worst city for well-paid entry-level jobs

Despite boasting the third-most educated population in the U.S., Washington, D.C., is the country’s worst city for highly-paid entry-level jobs — only one in four (26.4%) positions pay above the local median wage. Working for no pay at all is a reality for many in the capital, which according to Foreign Policy, “runs on interns.” Indeed, it was only in 2022 that the White House began to pay its interns.

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The next worst city for highly-paid entry-level jobs is Honolulu, Hawaii, where only 36.4% of entry-level roles pay over the state’s median wage. Not an attractive prospect for out-of-state job hunters, as the capital is the third-most expensive city in which to live in the country. Four cities in Massachusetts also make our ranking (more than any other state), with Lowell leading the bunch (45.2%). In response to a statewide labor shortage, the Boston Globe predicts that employers may have to boost wages in 2023 to attract applicants. 

Two-thirds of Hawaii’s entry-level jobs pay below the state’s median wage

Of all U.S. states, South Dakota boasts the highest percentage (76.1%) of entry-level job listings offering a salary above the state’s median. The state’s largest sector is agriculture, and, combined with forestry and related industries, provides one in five jobs across the state. In recent years, the U.S. farming industry has suffered from labor shortages

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In contrast, Hawaii is the worst state in which to find a highly-paid entry-level job: two-thirds (66.1%) of the junior roles we found advertised in the Aloha State came with a salary below the state’s median level. A previous study found that U.S. workers in the tourism sector — Hawaii’s largest industry, making up 21% of the economy — are paid the lowest of any sector

Mapped: the best city in each state for highly-paid entry-level job opportunities

If you’re on the hunt for an entry-level role, you don’t necessarily need to move out of state to secure an impressive income. Our map below reveals the best city in every state to find a highly-paid entry-level position based on the proportion of local job listings that advertise a salary above the state’s median wage. 

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From Memphis, Tennessee, where 73.7% of entry-level jobs are paid higher than the median wage, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (66.3%), cities with large populations seem to take the crown in many states, echoing a 2022 study that found that workers in large cities tend to make more money.

Explore our full dataset below to discover the proportion of entry-level job listings in each state and 223 major U.S. cities that advertise a salary above the state’s median wage. 

Don’t be afraid to negotiate your entry-level salary

Whether you’re fresh from college or starting a new career later in life, you shouldn’t feel like you aren’t able to negotiate a starting salary at an entry-level job. The evidence is on your side: one study found that more than half of employers are open to negotiating a starting salary with employees. 

Despite that, 60% of workers in the U.S. don’t negotiate for a higher salary in a new job, with women being less likely than men to do so. And while you may not get the result you were hoping for, according to economist Linda Babcock, not negotiating at all can cost you potentially over a million dollars in lost earnings over a lifetime.

If you’re having to relocate for an entry-level job, some companies might choose to offer a relocation package to help you get set up in your new town or city. Make sure you do your research about the local cost of living, too. 

In addition to honing your negotiation skills, ensuring your application stands out is crucial. Leveraging our resources, such as best resume templates and free cover letter templates, can significantly impact your job search success. 

Whether you're crafting your first resume or updating your portfolio for a new career challenge, exploring a variety of cover letter samples and sample resumes can provide invaluable insights and inspiration. 

For those looking to streamline the application process, a cover letter generator might be the perfect tool to create a compelling narrative that complements your resume. Remember, a well-prepared application not only showcases your qualifications but also demonstrates your professionalism and attention to detail, elements that are critical in any negotiation or job transition phase.

How we did it

For this research, we measured how many entry-level job ads were being advertised with a starting salary above the median salary for all 50 U.S. states and 223 major U.S. cities.

We sourced median hourly wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for each state and the number of entry-level jobs and their pay rates from Indeed.com.

We then converted the number of entry-level job ads per location into percentages to compare them with the local state’s median wage threshold.

In total, our research included 223 U.S. cities with a threshold set of 925 entry-level jobs or more per location in order for a city to qualify for our final rankings.

The data for our analysis was collected in April 2023 and is correct as of June 2023.

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