Best-Paying Cities for Generation Z

00 Young worker-777362656
Photo Credit: djrandco / Shutterstock

Generation Z—or Gen Z for short—is the generation succeeding millennials that represents about 20% of the U.S. population. The Brookings Institute’s definition of Gen Z is people born between 1997 and 2012, the oldest of which are now just beginning their careers. While members of Gen Z currently account for less than 5% of the U.S. full-time workforce, this number will increase rapidly in the coming decades

Chart1 Gen Z will soon be a major economic force in the US

When compared to millennials who largely entered the workforce in the wake of the Great Depression, Gen Zers face a much different job market and set of economic conditions. Even though unemployment rates spiked at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—something that disproportionately impacts younger workers—the economy has made great strides in its recovery since then, and the unemployment rate for all age groups has fallen below levels observed a decade ago. Wages are rising rapidly, the stock market outperformed expectations following its brief downturn, and businesses are struggling to find and retain workers. Taken together, these conditions better position Generation Z to avoid many of the financial challenges—namely underemployment and stagnant wages—that plagued millennials when they were the same age.

Chart2 High unemployment rates disproportionately impact younger workers

Naturally, because the oldest Gen Zers are just starting out in their careers, they tend to earn less than their older counterparts. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the national median wage for full-time Gen Zers was $26,000 in 2020, just slightly more than half of the median wage for all full-time workers ($50,000). However, wages are highly location-dependent. When taking the cost of living into account, Gen Zers in North Dakota and Iowa earned the most in 2020, at $33,681 and $32,950 respectively. Gen Zers in New England and other Midwestern states also earned high cost-of-living adjusted wages, due to mostly below-average living costs. Conversely, workers in Hawaii and New Jersey—two of the nation’s most expensive states—earned the least after adjusting for cost of living.

Chart3 Gen Zers earn the most in North Dakota Iowa


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To determine the best-paying metropolitan areas for Gen Zers, researchers at Self Financial analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Metro areas were ranked by the cost-of-living adjusted median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers. Researchers also calculated the unadjusted median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers, the unadjusted median annual wage for all full-time workers, and Gen Z’s share of the full-time labor force. Only the 100 largest metros were included in the analysis.

The Best-Paying Metros for Generation Z

15 Minnesota Minneapolis-284792693
Photo Credit: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

15. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $30,236
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $31,200
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $60,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): +3.2%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 4.4%

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14 Kentucky Louisville-1160455327
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14. Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $30,465
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $28,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $50,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -8.1%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 5.4%
    13 Pennsylvania Lancaster-1139210090
    Photo Credit: arburkholder / Shutterstock

    13. Lancaster, PA

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $30,465
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $30,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $50,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -1.5%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 8.1%
    12 Massachusetts Springfield-1806910141
    Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    12. Springfield, MA

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $30,630
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $30,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $54,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -2.1%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 4.6%
    11 Utah Salt Lake City-211233034
    Photo Credit: photo.ua / Shutterstock

    11. Salt Lake City, UT

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $30,700
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $30,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $50,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -2.3%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 6.7%
    10 Michigan Grand Rapids-1325126711
    Photo Credit: Photosbykaity / Shutterstock

    10. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $30,718
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $29,100
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $50,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -5.3%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 4.7%
    09 Ohio Cincinnati-1413437414
    Photo Credit: Rosamar / Shutterstock

    9. Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $31,024
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $29,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $51,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -6.5%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 4.9%
    08 Pennsylvania Harrisburg-397999060
    Photo Credit: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

    8. Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $31,094
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $30,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $50,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -3.5%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 4.1%
    07 Wisconsin Milwaukee-1418592320
    Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    7. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $31,272
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $30,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $50,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -4.1%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 5.5%
    06 Nebraska Omaha-1109462279
    Photo Credit: DomVisuals / Shutterstock

    6. Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $31,476
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $30,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $50,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -4.7%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 5.4%
    05 Indiana Indianapolis-82626295
    Photo Credit: Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock

    5. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $31,677
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $30,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $50,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -5.3%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 5.1%

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04 Massachusetts Boston-523594639
Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

4. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $31,755
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $35,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $70,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): +10.2%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 3.2%
    03 Massachusetts Worcester-496426282
    Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    3. Worcester, MA-CT

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $32,203
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $32,400
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $60,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): +0.6%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 3.9%
    02 New York by Albany-495326965
    Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    2. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $32,204
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $32,300
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $60,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): +0.3%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 3.5%
    01 Connecticut Bridgeport-1019092966
    Photo Credit: Wendell Guy / Shutterstock

    1. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT

  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (adjusted): $37,884
  • Median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers (actual): $40,000
  • Median annual wage for all full-time workers (actual): $72,000
  • Cost of living (compared to average): +5.6%
  • Gen Z share of the labor force: 3.5%

Detailed Findings & Methodology

To determine the best-paying metropolitan areas for Gen Zers, researchers at Self analyzed earnings data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample and cost-of-living data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’s 2020 Regional Price Parity dataset. Metro areas were ranked by the cost-of-living adjusted median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers. In the event of a tie, the metro with the higher unadjusted median annual wage for full-time Gen Zers was ranked higher. Researchers also calculated the median annual wage for all full-time workers, and Gen Z’s share of the full-time labor force. The Brookings Institution defines Gen Z as people born from 1997 to 2012. This analysis focuses on full-time Gen Z workers who were 16 to 23 in 2020. Only the 100 largest metros were included in the analysis.

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Written on March 17, 2022
Self is a venture-backed startup that helps people build credit and savings. Comments? Questions? Send us a note at hello@self.inc.

Disclaimer: Self is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.

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