Top States & Cities for RN Salaries in 2024: Cost of Living & Future Outlook

Written by
January 01, 2024
This guide by DirectShifts aims to assist aspiring and current registered nurses (RNs) navigate the complex landscape of salaries and cost of living across the United States. With data based on reputable sources, including government agencies and nurses' associations, we present the top 20 states offering attractive salary and cost-of-living prospects for RNs. We also delve into national employment trends, future job outlook, and promising specializations.

U.S. Registered Nurse Landscape:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 7% growth in RN employment between 2022 and 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. This reflects an aging population requiring more healthcare services and a nationwide nursing shortage. Additionally, the median annual wage for RNs in the U.S. was $80,370 in May 2023, according to the BLS, with significant state and city variations.

Future for RNs just starting out

The future for new RNs appears bright. High demand, competitive salaries, and diverse career paths make nursing an attractive choice. However, choosing the right state and city heavily influences your financial well-being. This guide helps you explore options that balance salary potential with manageable living expenses.

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Top 20 States for RNs (Salary & Cost of Living)

This list considers average annual RN salaries (2024 data) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and cost-of-living indices from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC).

1. California: With an average annual RN salary of $124,000, California tops the list, offering the highest earning potential. However, the cost of living is also the highest, with an index of 137.7. San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Rosa are the top 3 paying cities, but expect a significant portion of your income going towards expenses.

2. Hawaii: Despite its idyllic allure, Hawaii comes with the second-highest cost of living (189.2) and the second-highest average RN salary ($106,530). Honolulu, Kailua-Kona, and Hilo offer the best pay but be prepared for a hefty price tag on everyday living.

3. Oregon: Offering a more balanced approach, Oregon boasts a respectable average RN salary of $98,630 and a manageable cost-of-living index of 110.5. Portland, Eugene, and Salem are the top earners, attracting nurses seeking a good quality of life without exorbitant costs.

4. Massachusetts: The Bay State delivers a competitive average RN salary of $97,970 alongside a moderate cost of living (124.4). Boston, Worcester, and Springfield are the top-paying cities, ideal for nurses seeking a blend of good income and manageable expenses.

5. Washington: Like Oregon, Washington presents a favorable balance with an average RN salary of $96,180 and a cost-of-living index of 111.2. Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellevue offer the highest wages, making it an attractive option for nurses seeking affordability and scenic beauty.

6. Alaska: Embrace the adventure and potentially high earnings in Alaska, where the average RN salary reaches $95,900. However, be prepared for the hefty cost of living (144.4), particularly in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau.

7. Maryland: Settle in charming Maryland with its moderate cost of living (114.1) and competitive average RN salary of $95,190. Baltimore, Annapolis, and Rockville offer the best wages, creating a desirable option for nurses seeking a comfortable lifestyle.

8. New York: The Empire State presents both high earning potential and high living costs. The average RN salary sits at $94,270, but the cost-of-living index is 144.1. New York City, Rochester, and Buffalo are the top earners but expect significant expenses.

9. Washington D.C.: The nation's capital offers a unique opportunity with an average RN salary of $93,540. However, the cost of living is also high (140.3). Consider your personal preferences for urban life and career advancement before making a decision.

10. Colorado: Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Colorado while earning a respectable average RN salary of $93,170. The cost of living is moderate (110.5), with Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins offering the highest wages.

11. Minnesota: Experience the Midwestern charm and comfortable living in Minnesota, where the average RN salary is $92,170 and the cost-of-living index is a low 101.1. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Rochester are the top-paying cities, making it an attractive option for affordability and good quality of life.

12. California (adjusted): While California boasts the highest RN salary, consider adjusted options like San Diego or Sacramento, which offer lower living costs than major cities while still maintaining a good average salary of $92,050.

13. Connecticut: Enjoy the historic charm of Connecticut with a competitive average RN salary of $91,600 and a moderate cost of living (120.7). Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven are the top earners, creating a balanced option for salary and affordability.

14. New Jersey: The Garden State presents a mixed bag with a high average RN salary of $90,170 but an equally high cost of living (127.9). Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson are the top earners but be prepared for significant living expenses.

15. Illinois: Explore the vibrant culture of Illinois with its average RN salary of $88,230 and a moderate cost of living (106.5). Chicago, Aurora, and Naperville offer the highest wages, making it an attractive option for urban life and decent affordability.

16. Pennsylvania: Discover historical charm and diverse landscapes in Pennsylvania, with an average RN salary of $86,950 and a manageable cost of living (105.2). Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Allentown are the top earners, offering a good balance between salary and affordability.

17. Virginia: Enjoy the Southern hospitality and historical significance of Virginia, where the average RN salary is $86,270 and the cost of living is low (102.1). Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Richmond are the top earners, making it an attractive option for affordability and good quality of life.

18. Texas: Embrace the vastness and diverse opportunities of Texas, with an average RN salary of $85,190 and a low cost of living (102.3). Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth are the top earners, making it an attractive option for affordability and career growth.

19. Georgia: Immerse yourself in the Southern charm and cultural richness of Georgia, with an average RN salary of $84,440 and a low cost of living (99.1). Atlanta, Savannah, and Augusta are the top earners, making it an attractive option for affordability and a vibrant lifestyle.

20. Florida: Soak up the sunshine and beaches of Florida, with an average RN salary of $83,190 and a moderate cost of living (108.7). Miami, Orlando, and Tampa Bay are the top earners, offering a blend of affordability and access to outdoor activities.

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Registered Nurse Salaries by State

Average RN Salary
Cost of Living Index
Top 3 Paying Cities
Honolulu, Kailua-Kona, Hilo
San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa
Jackson, Biloxi, Gulfport
Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Shreveport
Wichita, Overland Park, Topeka
Little Rock, Fayetteville, Springdale
New Mexico
Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces
$67,530 87.1
Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman
Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery
Phoenix, Tucson, Mesa
Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green
Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport
Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville
St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield
Boise, Meridian, Nampa
Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue
North Carolina
Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro
Las Vegas, Henderson, Reno
Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati
Portland, Lewiston, Bangor
Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Detroit
Billings, Missoula, Great Falls
Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay
New Hampshire
Manchester, Nashua, Concord
Wilmington, Dover, Newark
Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta
North Dakota
Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
Chicago, Aurora, Naperville
New Jersey
Newark, Jersey City, Paterson
Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven
Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester
Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins
New York
New York City, Rochester, Buffalo
Baltimore, Annapolis, Rockville
Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau
Boston, Worcester, Springfield
Portland, Eugene, Salem

Specializations with Promising Futures:

While all RN specialties offer stability and growth, some hold particularly promising futures due to increasing demand and advancements in healthcare. These include:

1. Informatics Nurses: Integrate technology into healthcare, utilizing data to improve patient outcomes and operational efficiency.

2. Nurse Practitioners (NPs): Provide primary care, diagnose and treat illnesses, and prescribe medications, offering comprehensive care in various settings.

3. Telehealth Nurses: Deliver care remotely using technology, expanding access to healthcare in underserved areas and offering flexibility for both patients and nurses.

4. Mental Health and Addiction Nurses: Address the growing need for mental health services with specialized knowledge and compassion.

5. Gerontological Nurses: Care for the aging population, specializing in their unique needs and challenges.

Navigating the landscape of nurse salaries across the US can be both exciting and complex. This journey through the top 10 states has hopefully shed light on the diverse opportunities and rewards available to skilled RNs. Remember, salary, while crucial, is only one piece of the puzzle. Cost of living, career aspirations, and personal preferences are vital in crafting your ideal professional trajectory.

DirectShifts Take:

DirectShifts connects talented RNs with rewarding travel nursing opportunities across the U.S. We understand the salary and cost-of-living factors nurses consider, and our experienced team can help you find assignments that match your financial goals and desired lifestyle. Explore our job board and contact us today to discuss your nursing career journey!

Registered Nurse Salary FAQs

Data Sources:

Average RN Salaries: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program
Cost of Living Indices: Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) Cost of Living Index (2023)

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