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Best and Worst Cities to Start a Career in 2024

WalletHub's best cities for starting a career also provide substantial income growth potential and pleasant work conditions.

By Donna Levalley, Kiplinger Consumer News Service (TNS)

Finding your first job after graduation is an exciting and daunting process. When you layer on the reality that where you work will impact your life just as much as your new job title and salary—the search takes on heightened importance. While some cities, such as New York, are sought-after, it doesn’t mean they are the best place to start. In fact, New York City was ranked dead last in this survey of the Best and Worst Places to Start a Career by Wallethub.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects 2,185,000 newly minted bachelor’s-degree level graduates in the Class of 2024. Some will go to graduate school, but most will be looking for that first real job. Where a job is located can facilitate or hinder buying a home, the ability to save and prospects for career and salary advancement. 

WalletHub compared 182 cities—including the 150 most populated U.S. cities, plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state—across two key dimensions, “Professional Opportunities” and “Quality of Life.” The study examined each selected city based on 26 key metrics ranging from the availability of entry-level jobs, the average monthly starting salary to housing affordability. 

The best cities to start a career

The majority of the best places on this list are in the south and southwest. This is no surprise as these regions have been hotbeds of job and population growth. States such as Arizona, Texas and Florida have seen a steep increase in population from other states with New Yorkers and Californians leading the way. A healthy number of these newcomers are affluent and are bringing business opportunities to their new states.  

Matthew T. Hora, founding director, Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was asked by WalletHub about the top five indicators when choosing a city to start a career. He sees reasonable cost of living, living proximate to friends and family, “a lively cultural scene, decent access to nature, and limited pollution” as driving motivations for which place a graduate might choose to live. Although he says “most graduates are focused on the next three to five years of their lives and not the next 50 years.”

The top city according to WalletHub is Atlanta. The survey cites an average household income of $79,000, the highest annual growth in household incomes at 8.9%, and “plentiful entry-level jobs” with an abundance of highly rated companies as solid reasons to plant roots in the Peach State.

Orlando comes in a strong second. Graduates can expect decent wages over time as their household wage growth is an impressive 8.2%. In addition, it has the second-highest number of entry-level job openings per capita, along with lots of openings at companies rated four or five stars, according to WalletHub.

Data courtesy of WalletHub.

The worst cities

The bottom of the list is populated by Rust Belt cities, such as Detroit and Newark, and a place better known as a retirement community than a spring break destination, Pembroke Pines, FL.

Data courtesy of WalletHub.

New York City is number one in many categories: cost of living and housing are two of them. It also takes the top prize for being the worst place to start a career according to the WalletHub study, and scores near the bottom for quality of life. It holds little promise for the next Mark Zuckerberg as it ranks 96 out of 100 according to WalletHub’s Best Large Cities to Start a Business. Unlike Orlando, which ranks first. 


All contents copyright 2024 The Kiplinger Washington Editors Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.