Highest Paying States
The highest paying states for nurses include those with an above-average salary for nurses which also reflects the cost of living. In the world of nursing, several factors impact how much a nurse will be paid for the job performed. Nursing is one of the only professional fields where experience is still more important than the number of degrees acquired within reason.
A registered nurse (RN) who has earned an associate’s degree, but has 20 years of experience, may still be paid higher than a 5-year veteran who holds a bachelor’s. However, this is changing slightly due to the incentives hospitals and clinics receive to ensure that all nurses have a minimum 4-year degree. The list below is reflective of this long-held seniority practice.
“Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.” -Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
Ranking the Highest Paying States for Nurses
The following rankings the Highest Paying States for nurses based on the average annual salary for RNs in various states, as The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), reported through the US Department of Labor. The list is organized strictly based on how much nurses make, but we mention the cost of living to give readers a sense of what they are getting into. Some of them may surprise you.
Many factors impact how much a nurse might need to feel valued, but that is another list. It should be noted that the state rarely reports the Cost of Living because if you think about it, the difference between one of the biggest cities in the world may be in the same state as a very small or far less populated town with less infrastructure and a much smaller economy.
It is no surprise that California is the best place to work if you are a Registered Nurse, as most cities in California offer job opportunities that pay much higher wages than those jobs in other places. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics through the US Department of Labor indicates that the median salary for a Registered Nurse in the state is $124,000. This is much higher than the national average. Furthermore, the income potential in metro areas like San Jose and the San Francisco Bay Area is even higher. However, nurses without a BSN or working in less-resourced communities in the Golden State can expect to make more than $65,000 per year. And senior-level nurses, with more than 20 years of experience and advanced degrees can expect up to $125,000.
The sad fact is, what often comes along with high salaries is a high cost of living. California’s most populous city, Los Angeles, is no exception to this rule. According to Payscale data, a family’s average cost of living in LA is 43% higher than the national average. Housing is the item that drives up costs most in this southern California city, with transportation costs following a close second. Commute times in southern California are also famously tricky, with average commuters spending more than 45 minutes getting to work. There is nothing like a spot in the sun, though, and with the ocean waves crashing down along the entire western part of the state, time spent outside the clinic or hospital makes California a nurse’s paradise.
Average RN Salary: $124,000 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Practitioners: $151,030 (BLS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Salary: $232,540 (BLS)
Salary for Certified Nurse Midwives: $137,070 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: Los Angeles, 43% higher
Aloha, RNs! Not only is Hawai’i one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it is also one of the best if you are a working nurse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on nurses salaries in Aloha State indicates that nurses working in Honolulu average a $106,530 salary. Those lower averages are near $63 thousand, and the higher ones are close to $126 thousand! It is the second highest-paying state.
Not too bad for nurses who benefit from living in the least stressful state in the US. With the new regulations banning sunscreen due to its impact on the coral reefs in the region, nurses can expect the same number of surfing accident victims and many more lobsteresque tourists. Healthcare, including nursing, is the most well-paying industry in the state, with Information Technology following close behind.
Like any utopia, Honolulu’s living cost is a whopping 88% higher than the national average. The big-ticket item on that island is housing. With a statewide housing shortage and development geared toward resorts and attractions, not single-family home construction, the housing prices are up to 200% higher than average.
Given the status of this state as an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, anything not grown on the island must be shipped from far away. This increases the cost of food and utilities for folks who live there by about 70% higher than average. However, the plus sides of living here are too many to name. In addition to being one of the least stressful places to live, a cultural focal point of Hawai’ian people is to relax, love each other and the earth, and appreciate the beauty surrounding them.
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary: $65,140 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $106,530 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Practitioners: $127,490 (BLS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Salary: $218,750 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: Honolulu, 88% higher
Massachusetts may be known for hosting tea parties and generally revolutionary ideals, but you should know it for its high wages for RNs. With a relatively low cost of living compared to other great states for nursing salaries, Massachusetts is a no-brainer for smart nurses. For a state number one in the nation in education, they have made a brilliant move paying RNs what they are worth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that the average annual salary for an RN in Massachusetts is $96,630. The lower end of that average is $56,490 and the top spot earns $131,710 annually. That person likely spends time on Martha’s Vineyard. At least, I would if I were that person.
The cost of living for Boston, Massachusetts’ most populous city, is not that bad. It is only 17% higher than the national average. With this very manageable cost of living, coupled with the high salaries, nurses in Boston and the lovely surrounding towns can have the best of both worlds. With public transport comparable in its reach and efficiency to New York’s subway, the T train is not what is jacking up the prices in Beantown. Besides housing, it is the cost of utilities in this very old city that has the numbers creeping above the national average. Healthcare for Massachusetts residents is highly subsidized, and with a huge agricultural industry, the cost of food stays in check. The only question after how to spend all that money you can make as an RN in the Bay State is how to make it through the 6-month long winter.
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary: $61,820 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $96,630 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Practitioners: $129,540 (BLS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Salary: $219,680 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: Boston, 17% higher
Oregon is a great place to be a nurse. The BLS indicates that nurses in Oregon earn a median salary of $98,630. The lower end of this average is $65,080, which is not bad, considering much of Oregon is rural and under-resourced. Finding healthcare in these communities is hard enough. Finding nurses who make nearly the national average salary is wonderful and makes for more comprehensive healthcare generally. The upper end of this average for nurses is $118,540, for those RN with tons of experience and a supervisory position. Many of these nurses are concentrated in more populous areas like Portland and the state capital of Salem. Additionally, Certified Nursing Assistants in Oregon are some of the highest-paid in the nation. They earn an average salary of $38,830 per year which is an average hourly rate of $18.67 (BLS).
Speaking of Portland, this big city is lovely, lively, and according to Payscale, livable. You may know more about it than you ever cared to by the hit TV show, Portlandia. The quirky town certainly has its fair share of goofballs, but also is a large economic hub. The athletic wear giants, Nike and Adidas, are based there, as well as the tech company Intel and manufacturing industries that sprang up in the wake of the waning timber industry. As a result, the cost of living for this desirable place is a little above average, around 13% higher. Like most cities on this list, housing, at 78% higher than national averages, is the biggest expense for RNs and their friends. Most other common expenses are close to on par with national averages.
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary: $60,090 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $98,630 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Practitioners: $128,190 (BLS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Salary: $225,560 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: Portland, 13% higher
In the northernmost state in the country, where healthcare is both hard to come by and expensive for residents to access, nurses in The Last Frontier make a pretty good living. The average for RNs who live and work in Alaska is $97,230. The low end of the average is about $62,270, and the highest paid nurses make $119,210 per year. The capital city is Juneau, but most nurses work in Anchorage or in medical outposts scattered around the state. Nurses with a background in rural nursing and nurses with indigenous heritage are in most need around the state, and there is supplemental grant money for these nurses to work in Alaska. Additionally, Certified Nursing Assistants in Alaska earn an average salary of $43,080 per year which is an average hourly rate of $20.71 (BLS).
While it is called the largest city in the state, Anchorage is really a big town (pop. 298,695). It is famous for many things, and you may know it as the starting point of the Iditarod sled dog race. Balto fan, anyone? The race commemorates the 1925 rush to get Diphtheria antitoxin from this most populous city to the city of Nome, during an epidemic in the tiny outpost. Only a team of sled dogs would be able to deliver the drug to Nome in enough time to save the citizens therein, and they did. Tears to my eyes, to this day! Luckily RNs won’t be waiting on brave dogs and mushers to have what they need to work with patients, but with all that extra money, they could choose to keep and train a sled dog team. Just in case.
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary: $63,650 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $97,230 (BLS)
Nurse Practitioner Salary: $113,820 (BLS)
Salary for Certified Nurse Midwives: $96,020 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: Anchorage, 28% higher
Few states have the staying power and scrappy resolve that Nevada does. Nontraditional from its very beginning, Nevada became a state in the late 1880s after a very expensive telegram to the nation’s capital. Nevada nurses make an average of $88,800, a respectable wage for a place with so much disparity. The settlement was slow in the beginning, likely due to the extreme desert conditions, with an average of 7 inches of rainfall per year. Even into the 1940s, Nevada’s population was nearly 100 thousand people. The whole state, I am not making this up. Now that number is closer to 3 million and rising. The advent of irrigation technology and the slack laws around morality (including gambling and sex work) have given this state its easy-going reputation.
It is hard to mention gambling without mentioning Nevada’s most populous city, Las Vegas. The cost of living in this City of Lights is an easy 3% higher than the national average, with transportation costs increasing more than other reasons. In fact, the average cost of utilities in Las Vegas is 10% lower than the national average. Nurses looking into working in Vegas should be aware that the tourism industry, which fuels most of the economy, makes for a unique patient population. Transient people in town for fun are the majority of people RNs in Sin City work with, thus creating a non-permanent feeling for many professionals that is pretty widely felt. It is a perfect environment for those who like to change it up, but not so much for nurses who need to feel rooted in their work.
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary: $60,490 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $88,800 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Practitioners: $123,680 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: Las Vegas 3% higher
Related: 8 Best Nursing Schools in Las Vegas
7. New York
According to BLS data, New York state nurses stand to make a great income, with the average salary right at $93,320 per year. The lower end of this spectrum is around $54,050, and the upper end caps at around $117,470. These averages mean big bucks for the small town, upstate farming communities, or quaint college towns. The more experience and higher the level of nursing education, the higher the salary potential. The city’s population density is so extreme that even though New York state is the 4th most populous state in the country, 40% of the close to 20 million people live in the Big Apple. New York Certified Nursing Assistants earn an average salary of $40,680 per year, and an average hourly rate of $19.56 (BLS).
New York City’s cost of living sure is Texas-sized for a city that is so small in area compared to its population. It is hard to even type how the cost of living stacks up to the rest of the nation, I am serious, I do not know how anyone does it. You hear stories, but the numbers are so hard to understand. The cost of living, as compared to all the rest of us non-New Yorkers, is 128% higher. Housing alone is three hundred and sixty-nine percent higher than in other cities in the country. I spelled that one out because the numbers were too big to display in numerals. Why do nurses choose it? There is absolutely no place in the world like New York. There are 297,331 RNs with a license in New York, which happens to be 8% of all RNs in the U.S. These hardworking and dedicated professionals must love something about it.
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary: $53,750 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $93,320 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Practitioners: $133,940 (BLS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Salary: $225,180 (BLS)
Salary for Certified Nurse Midwives: $126,170 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: New York City, 128% higher
8. New Jersey
Just south of New York City, both on this list and geographically is the State of New Jersey. With a much smaller area and population of just under 9 million people, New Jersey is a state that has historically treated manufacturing and industry very well. Now, it treats its nurses very well. After the hard work of the nursing school, Registered Nurses earn an average salary of over $89,690, says BLS. The lower end of RN earners makes closer to $58,900, while those pulling these numbers up on average earn closer to $10,5710. New Jersey is a beautiful and magical place. It either has or is close to everything you need in life. It is a wonderful place to be a nurse if you can swing it.
The most populous city in Garden State is Newark. It is the hub of the shipping industry of the entire east coast, as well as its busiest port town and seaport. They also host one of the busiest international airports in the country, located just outside the city. Nurses should consider that the cost of living in this hub of travel and industry is 22% higher than the national average. Housing that sneaks thief is 55% higher than average. In fact, New Jersey has the sixth most expensive rental market in the country, and the taxes for homeownership are high.
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary: $58,590 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $89,690 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Practitioners: $137,010 (BLS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Salary: $263,850 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Midwives: $109,4000 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: Newark, 22% higher
The state of Connecticut is known for its education of young people as well as post-secondary education, and for its hedge funds. It has one of the highest per capita income rates of any state in the U.S. It is true that there is a large wealth gap in the state, with the communities with the fewest resources bringing in much less money than those top earners. Connecticut nurses do very well overall, at an average of $88,530 per year. Even those with less experience or living in some of these under-resourced areas bring home an average of $57,360. The highest average wage for nurses, like pediatric nurses, in the Constitution State, is around $103,520, much higher than the national average. A salary like this, in a state that invented pizza as we know it in the U.S.; I am not sure why I don’t become a nurse and move to Connecticut. Seriously, when I am done with this, I will look into all of that.
The most populous city in the fourth most densely populated state is the city of Bridgeport, CT. This historic port town has the nickname “The Park City” because it has amazing parks. With that mighty average salary and a cost of living that is only 4% higher than the national average, the birds won’t be the only ones singing in Park City this summer. Seriously, compared to some of the cities on this list, 4% higher might as well be no percent higher. Housing costs in Bridgeport are 15% L.E.S.S. than average.
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary: $59,440 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $88,530 (BLS)
Salary for Nurse Practitioners: $120,450 (BLS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Salary: $276,740 (BLS)
Cost of Living for populous city: Bridgeport, 4% higher
To jump coasts on you, Washington State made it into the top 10 highest-paying states for Registered Nurses. With an average salary of $95,350, registered nurses in Washington state are making out like bandits! The lower end of the average gets a new nurse around $53,850, while the top RN salaries are right at $112,500.
Washington State has huge agricultural, lumber, fishing, and manufacturing industries, and the economy is one of the strongest in the country. In addition, Washington pays its workers a high minimum wage. The pay rate translates to better working conditions, more people with access to healthcare, better health, and easier working conditions for registered nurses. It is trickle-up economics at its finest!
The most populous city in the State of Washington is Seattle. The Emerald City is a gem of a town, leading the way nationally with a minimum of $15 per hour for all wage workers. However, the cost of living is 49% higher than the national average. Housing is 94% higher than national averages, with Groceries, Utilities, Transportation, and Health Care all hovering at around 25% higher than average. The plus side for nurses is the Seattle metro area community takes healthcare and medical research very seriously. They have one of the best paramedic systems globally. In addition, they boast a Trauma 1 medical center that also serves the surrounding states of Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. No wonder Grey’s Anatomy is based there.
Licensed Practical Nurses: $63,250 (BLS)
Average RN Salary: $95,350 (BLS)
Salary for Certified Nurse Practitioners: $130,840 (BLS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Salary: $244,730 (BLS)
Other Top Paying States for RNs
Below are some other states where nurses make good money.
- Washington D.C / District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
- South Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
What are the Factors in a Nurse Salary?
There are many factors to consider when you examine the nursing salary you expect to earn. So make sure you research and compare all the factors before you accept a position.
Employer Salary Differences
No matter what state you work in, some employers just pay more than others. Traditionally, the healthcare industry sets salaries based on the difficulty of the work. Nurses in intensive care units and critical care facilities tend to earn higher salaries. But, most of these jobs require superhero stamina and skill from the beginning of the shirt right until the end. Nurses who work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities also work hard, but the pace is not as fast.
Another reason employers pay more is for unpopular jobs. For example, this is why some facilities offer healthcare workers double pay on holidays. And is the reason travel nurses make so much. They relocate every few months. This lifestyle is awesome for nurses with no family obligations but would be nearly impossible for someone with a family.
Salary for Different Types of Nurses
RNs typically earn less than advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Some of the highest-paid nurse roles are certified registered nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist. However, an advanced practice registered nurse has advanced education and training.
Years of Experience and Salary
The more experience a nurse has, the more they earn. For example, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse anesthetists have a yearly salary much higher than RNs. These top nursing careers require years of experience and education.
Cost of Living and Salary
One element that can feel like the biggest thief regarding a nurse’s paycheck is the cost of living in the state where they live. Ideally, in a place where the cost of living is extremely high, a nurse’s salary is high enough to be able to keep up. There are complicated equations our editors could use to shuffle this list of states around, maintaining most of the same states we have now. They would be in a different order. We figured that no one moves to a state where the cost of living is high unless it’s hello Hawaii!
Education and Degree Type
More education and a more advanced degree usually equate to higher pay. For example, nurses with a bachelor’s degree typically earn higher salaries than nurses with an associate degree. Similarly, the salary range for nurses with a graduate degree is even higher.
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