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Millions of college graduates are now ready to launch their careers. While historically, cities like Los Angeles and New York were considered epicenters for young talent looking to kickstart their professional careers, soaring rent prices and cost of living have driven many of them to rather look elsewhere for potential employment opportunities.
While the once red-hot labor market has begun cooling down from its post-pandemic high, unemployment figures – against the backdrop of a looming recession – continue to remain substantially low.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that nonfarm payroll increased by more than 200,000 in June, bringing the unemployment rate down from 3.7% in May, to 3.6% in June 2023.
Although workplace trends such as Quiet Quitting, and now more recently, Loud Quitting have taken a toll on employers, the majority of younger soon-to-be workers are willing to relocate for their careers, as surging rental prices and higher costs continue to eat into their disposable income.
A recent Bankrate survey found that 37% and 36% of Gen Z and Millennials, respectively, who are currently employed or have been looking for work in recent months are open to the idea of relocating for their careers in the next year.
With a fresh cohort of new grads and current employees looking to make the next big move in their careers, here’s a rundown of the ten most popular cities best suited for the next generation of workers.
Ten Best Cities To Start A Career
Considering the size of the United States, and the hundreds of metropolitan areas new graduates can choose from, it becomes seemingly overwhelming to decide where to move next.
Regarding the most recent employment statistics, the BLS reported that states including Alabama, Alaska, New Mexico, New York, and Wyoming experienced the largest job gains following June employment indications.
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Looking for jobs in these states could result in a higher response rate, however, several additional surveys and reports have shown that an array of cities, in the South, and west coast continue to be some of the best places for young college graduates that are looking to kick start their career.
Whether you have a hard time agreeing or not, everything is bigger and better in Texas; and for recent college grads, Austin, Texas, has become one of the best places for young professionals looking to ascend their climb on the corporate ladder.
What was once a small, bohemian town is now one of the fastest-growing tech hubs in America, with big-tech firms such as Meta, Samsung, and Tesla all now planting their roots here.
The arrival of these big-tech companies has given Austing the nickname “Silicon Hills” becoming a strong competitor to the once well-known Silicon Valley. Recent reports by the Austin Chamber of Commerce found that technology-related jobs have increased by more than 62% in the last decade, with Ausitn’s tech sector accounting for 15% of all jobs in the city.
While the city boasts a lively music scene, ample outdoor amenities, and the nearby University of Texas, statistics by PayScale show that cost of living is nearly 42.5% lower in Austin compared to places such as San Francisco, California. What’s more, median rent prices currently hover at around $1,584 per month, however, housing tends to be 16% higher than the national average.
The Great Seattle Metropolitan Area has started experiencing an uptick in young professionals planting their roots here, due to high employment opportunities, and the diversified demographic.
The Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellevue area has seen an increasing number of younger residents moving into urban areas, with the median age standing at 37.5 years, slightly below the U.S. median of 38.8 years
A vibrant city, packed with colorful restaurants, bars, cafés, and cultural amenities, and surrounded by mountains, woods, and the nearby ocean, younger professionals seeking a more balanced lifestyle tend to soak up all that Seattle and the greater State of Washington have to offer.
A further review indicates that more than 93% of residents have completed high school education or higher, and more than 46% currently hold at least a bachelor’s degree or a higher equivalent thereof.
There’s no shortage of employment, considering that some of the state’s biggest companies, including Amazon, Deloitte, Nordstrom, Starbucks, University of Washington, and Alaska Airlines, among a dozen or so either have their headquarters based here, or a major regional office.
Salt Lake City, Utah
The capital city of Utah has experienced an increasing influx of new residents moving here, due to the state’s lower cost of living, substantially good quality of life, and a bustling economy.
What’s more, the State of Utah was ranked the #1 place for graduates seeking new career opportunities in a recent U.S. News report.
Several factors make Salt Lake City a top destination for young professionals, from the endless outdoor amenities, from the mountains to the largest saltwater lake in the western hemisphere to the close proximity to places such as Colorado and New Mexico, the surrounding area provides numerous opportunities for those looking to settle here.
Based on economic performance data, Utah ranked as one of the top places for job seekers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. It currently has a 2.6% job growth, compared to the 0.6% national average, above average health care quality, and for motorists, the average commute time to work is only 21 minutes, below the national average of 25 minutes.
In Salt Lake City, the average cost of living is nearly 39% lower compared to San Francisco, 28.1% lower than Los Angeles, 52.5% lower than New York City, and 22.3% lower than Washington D.C. While housing prices are 8% above the national average, median rental prices are still manageable at $1,678 per month.
Welcome to “Plow City” a smaller, less competitive city located in the Illinois-Iowa Quad Cities area, and home to the global headquarters of John Deere, hence the nickname.
Although Moline is perhaps not the first choice on any college graduates list of places to move after college, the city is nestled along the Mississippi and the Rock River which is found in Rock Island County, Illinois.
For individuals seeking a more easy pace of living, while still feeling that they reside in a city, Moline has a population of just over 42,000 people and is considered one of the more affordable cities to reside in, with the cost of living 5.4% lower than the national average, and 12.4% lower than Chicago.
Other than the multinational agricultural giant, John Deere, other potential corporate employers include Heart of America Management, Rivervalley Health Care, Medical Arts Internal Medicine, and Westwood Terrace. While the job market may slightly be more competitive, due to the size of the city, there’s an overall charm that makes Moline a suitable choice for young graduates.
The city has in recent years invested heavily in the greenification of public areas, with new public parks and recreation centers. Other top things to do and enjoy here are major sporting events, cultural exhibits, museums, and outdoor amenities such as river paddling on the Mississippi.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Over the last several months, Colorado Springs has received acclaimed coverage as being one of the more affluent, and best cities to live and work in for college graduates, following a Zillow Report.
According to the Zillow Observed Rent Index, the median rent in the city is substantially lower compared to larger cities such as Denver, which is about 90 minutes away. On average, residents pay roughly $1,824 per month for rent, while over in Denver, this fire is closer to $2,100 per month.
From rent, groceries, utilities, and transportation, everything seems to be slightly more affordable here, although there are those neighborhoods where residents will be seen paying eye-watering figures for necessities such as rent, gas, and water.
Other attractions, such as public transportation, are also somewhat more affordable, especially in the downtown Colorado Springs area, where cash bus fares can cost residents around $1.75 per ride, still a lot cheaper than taking the subway in New York, which will now start costing residents $2.90 in the coming months.
Since the beginning of the year, the city has seen unemployment rates decrease, moving from 3.2% in January 2023 to 2.9% in May 2023. Several industries, including leisure, hospitality, education, healthcare services, professional, business services, and government services have experienced increasing employment rates during the same recorded period.
Colorado Springs provides its thriving young community of residents with ample activities and things to do in their downtime and perhaps some of the best views of the Rocky Mountains.
Des Moines, Iowa
For graduates that want to save big time, Des Moines, Iowa is perhaps one of the best places, if not the cheapest places to be right now.
On average, the cost of living is 14% lower than the national average, with housing 32% lower, utilities 15% lower, and groceries 2% more affordable here compared to the American average. Compared to New York, one of the most expensive metropolitans in the country, residents here will see their cost of living decrease by more than 60% according to data provided by PayScale.
Monthly rent falls below $1,000, with the median average hovering at $929.54 per month, and the median cost of utilities being just over $150.00 per month.
Graduates seeking work in education, government, health care, finance, and utilities will find an array of opportunities, as some of the state’s biggest employers, including Des Moines Public Schools, PPW Holdings, Principal Financial Group, Meredith Corporation, and MidAmerican Energy all have major offices in the city.
There are enough cultural and historic attractions around, and if the city is not big enough, then residents can take a drive to the nearby Cedar Rapids, which is less than two hours away.
Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina
The Raileigh-Cary area has been an up-and-coming city for young individuals launching their careers, and looking to step away from the competitive job market in Washington D.C., and Richmond, Virginia.
On average, the unemployment rate has remained unchanged for the last several months standing at 3.1%, below the national average. Employment has typically remained consistent, given the location of Raleigh and the Research Triangle Park, which employs more than 38,000 residents.
The biggest industries in the city include education, technology, research, and medicine. This is due to the Raleigh-Durham area, which includes North Carolina State University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
For those job seekers that are still looking to have a close connection with their more inspiring college years, some ample young residents make up the population, due to the high number of institutions, and also the growing employment opportunities.
The Raleigh-Cary area has a strong job market, and an evergreen economy, providing new opportunities for entrepreneurs and small business owners alike. Other attractive considerations include a high standard of medical and healthcare facilities and a considerably low cost of living.
The economy of Phoenix, Arizona is constantly experiencing growth and change, with key industries such as tech, health care, education services, leisure, and hospitality, among others employing the majority of the more than 4.7 million residents.
All three of the state’s major tertiary schools are located in Phoenix, including Grand Canyon University, The University of Phoenix, and Arizona State University.
Another major sector is tourism, which sees more than 200,000 tourism jobs in the state, and contributed more than $24.2 billion in sales last year.
Further down the list are industries such as trade, transportation, and utilities, which recorded an all-time high employment of more than 458,000 jobs in February 2022.
The state itself provides younger individuals with a diverse range of employment opportunities, with Phoenix experiencing a 30% increase in software and tech-related jobs in the last decade, growing at a rate 10% faster than the national average.
A research report – Dice 2021 Tech Salary Report – revealed that the Phoenix metro experienced the fastest growing rate in tech wages, with the data suggesting that salaries increased by 7.1% in 2020 to an average of $95,514.
The city boasts breathtaking scenery and a wide selection of natural and biodiverse amenities. On average, the cost of living tends to be more than 60% lower compared to other major metros in the U.S., making it not only an exciting and upcoming city to live in but also affordable at the same time,
Located near the eastern border of Washington, and a stone’s throw away from Idaho is the medium-sized city of Spokane, Washington, about four and half hours away from Seattle.
While the city may reside in the shadow of its bigger, and more well-known competitor in the West, recent changes in the job market, including remote work, hybrid jobs, and improved work-life balance have made the city a more suitable choice for college graduates and young families.
The biggest industries include healthcare and education services, trade, transportation and utilities, and government. Aside from these developed sectors, agriculture also employs thousands of residents, as Spokane County has more than 2,500 farms, and on average food processing generates more than $556 million in annual revenue.
Although it’s still an up-and-coming city, the cost of living remains substantially affordable, with the median cost of living only 3% higher than the national average. However, compared to places like Seattle, costs tend to fall by 31.2%, and residents would require roughly $34,390 in earnings to maintain their standard of living if they relocate from Seattle to Spokane.
For someone that might be looking to rent, median prices are below $1,500 per month, however, housing tends to be 3% more expensive than the national average due to increased demand and lower supply.
The city is a bustling area that boasts both man-made and natural attractions and is home to some of the state’s most well-preserved architectural sites and buildings. It’s a quaint place to live for any young professional that seeks to have the perfect blend between urban and small-town living.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
A plethora of diverse industries make up New Mexico’s economy however, several key industries including aerospace, gas and oil, bioscience, and renewable energy, among others such as digital media and film, and manufacturing are considered to be the biggest employers in the Albuquerque Regional Economic Area (EREA).
A closer look at Albuquerque reveals that the city’s biggest employers include the likes of SunBridge Health Corporation, Sandia National Labs, SUMCO, The University of New Mexico, Lovelace Health Systems, and TriCore Reference Laboratories
Those seeking opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) will find an extraordinary supply of possible jobs at some of the country’s most well-known scientific and engineering companies.
Graduates moving from cities like New York will experience a sharp decline in monthly expenses, with groceries costing 24%, housing being 84% more affordable and healthcare costs being 16% more affordable.
On average, the cost of living here breaks relatively equal to that of the national average, however, it’s still more affordable than places such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. that comprises similar industries.
The city has a long-standing rich history that stretches back more than 300 years. Aside from the endless cultural and historical amenities that one can visit, the city features more than 62 different breweries and bars, over 1,400 restaurants, and over 150 different cafés. It has the third largest art market in the country, boasts 146 museums, and an endless supply of outdoor amenities for young adventure seekers.
To Finish Off
Now that graduation is behind you, and the next chapter of your life begins, finding the right place to kick-start your professional career can be a daunting, yet exciting challenge that introduces you to a colorful array of cities across the country.
While there are dozens of interesting, fun, and exciting places to live, finding a city that has suitable employment opportunities, affordable cost of living, sufficient healthcare and educational services, and enough attractions to keep you entertained needs to have a top priority as you begin your search.
There’s no shortage of cities that provides recent graduates a safe, yet thriving environment where they can seek out professional opportunities, establish their roots, and above all, begin building their career.