The recession has been kinder to many college graduates, as new data from online salary database PayScale.com shows. For people with degrees, some cities have shown median wage growth of up to 15 percent since 2007.
Across the nation, wages for college grads rose an average of 3 percent in the past three years, PayScale found.
The national unemployment rate for college grads has also stayed much lower than the national average–at just 4.7 percent in May (compared with 9.7 for the country as a whole), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, while the rate for people with only a high school diploma was 15 percent.
Where is salary growth the hottest for college grads? PayScale’s analysis of the 100 largest market areas in the country revealed the best and worst cities for salary growth for people with a degree. The list includes the current median annual salary for college graduates in each area, as well as the salary growth percentage for those people over the past three years.
Best markets for salary growth
1. Honolulu, Hawaii ($55,800, +15%)
Hawaii’s median wage (for college graduates) back in 2007 was lower than the national average of $55,000, so employers here may be playing catch-up, notes Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at PayScale. The city also hosts major military facilities and is home to two universities, which together employ more than 23,000. “Universities provide stable pay and employment,” says Lee.
2. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pa.-N.J. ($58,700, +15%)
If you’ve still got that old Billy Joel song in your head about rust-belt hard times in Allentown, forget it. These days, Lee says, this region is a bustling center for health care services, one of the few industries that have kept growing right through the downturn.
3. El Paso, Texas ($49,000, +14%)
Two words: border patrol. “National defense is huge here,” says Lee, “and health care is strong.” The area’s lower-than-average wage may have been ripe for an upward swing, too.
4. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. ($73,800, +14%)
The Bay Area was a high-paying market to start with, notes Lee McPheters, director of the Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University. Hiring highly skilled workers away from local competitors, as well as from across the country, requires a salary bump. The region is strong in health care, too, an industry where unemployment rates are low–3.2 percent for hospital workers–and labor shortages tend to drive up wages.
5. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Va.-N.C. ($51,900, +14%)
As in El Paso, military bases are a major employer here, with well-paid jobs for officers, pilots, nuclear engineers, and intelligence analysts.
Worst markets for salary growth
1. Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa. ($49,900, -4%)
Budget cuts in the state capitol of Harrisburg led to 800 layoffs last year, and more are planned. Add dwindling manufacturing output and more layoffs, and wages start to shrink.
2. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Ore.-Wash. ($57,100, -1%)
Slower computer sales are the likely culprit here, depressing wages for tech professionals. Big area employers such as Intel scaled back last year and are just starting to recover.
3. Springfield, Mass. ($49,700, -1%)
Here, Lee says, there’s simply no strong driver to bring wage growth. Social workers were the top-paid professionals, PayScale’s research shows.
4. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa. ($44,200, -1%)
This region relies heavily on auto-industry related businesses, such as automotive-parts makers. “There’s still a ripple effect out there from the auto industry,” says Lee.
5. Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich. ($59,500, -1%)
You probably know the story here–slowed automotive sales have led to layoffs of college-educated workers such as engineers.