Looking for Work? Head to Texas

But avoid California, where five cities are among the least attractive for finding a job

By Dana Wilkie Jan 14, 2016
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Here’s a tip for 2016 job seekers: Head to Plano, Texas, a short drive from Dallas and an affluent hub for corporate headquarters s​uch as J.C. Penney and Frito-Lay. Plano is the U.S. city with the very best opportunities for employment, according to a new analysis.

The worst place to find a job? That would be Stockton, Calif., located in the economically depressed Central Valley and the second-largest city to file for bankruptcy protection after the 2008 financial crisis.

Personal finance website WalletHub compared 150 of the most populated cities across 17 key metrics, ranging from job opportunities to employment growth to monthly median starting salary, to come up with the best and worst places in the U.S. to look for work. 

In 2016’s Best & Worst Cities to Find a Job,released Jan. 4, WalletHub found that three cities in Texas—Plano at No. 1, Austin at No. 3 and Irving at No. 4—were among the top 5 places to find employment. 

“Texas has an attractive job market with lots of opportunities and employment growth,” said Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst. “It's actually one of the most varied states in terms of industry. Oil is certainly one of them, but it's now joined by tech, health care and hospitality booms. It's also important to point out that many Texas cities have reached what's known as full employment, meaning an unemployment rate of 5 percent or lower.”

Dallas and Houston were among the five cities with the highest monthly median starting salary.

Meanwhile, half the cities considered the 10 hardest places to land a job were in California: San Bernardino, Ontario, Modesto, Fresno and Stockton. Those last three cities are considered part of the state’s Central Valley, long an agricultural region that has been economically depressed. 

“These cities have very few job opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “For example, Fresno ranked 139th with 0.2 opportunities per capita—not a lot to go on for prospective job hunters. The annual job growth is quite low in the California cities that were ranked worst. The unemployment rate in these cities is more than double the national average, with Fresno being the second-worst city at 12.6 percent. High state taxes make it less lucrative for small-business owners to open up shop in California, which drives down new job openings.”

The five cities with the lowest monthly median starting salary were all in California—Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine, Oxnard and Santa Rosa.

Where the Jobs Are

Leanne Ralstin, a career development specialist at the University of Idaho whose comments were included in the analysis, said cities rich in employment opportunities tend to have well-developed technology, engineering and medical industries. 

Eli Berman, a professor of economics and research director for International Security Studies at the University of California, San Diego, said in the analysis that jobs in health care and personal care occupations will grow because the U.S. population is aging. “Tech sectors are also a great bet,” he said. 

Paul Harrington, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, cautioned that not all health care jobs are experiencing growth.

“Hospital employment is still growing, but at a much reduced rate, and employment in the nation’s nursing homes is flat and will likely decline,” Harrington said. There are “very strong gains in ambulatory care [as well as] high-end nurse practitioners, physician assistants, various imaging specialists and all the therapeutic occupations, including PT, OT and speech therapy. Also, [there is] tremendous growth in the low-skill home health care industry, with home health workers growing at a very rapid pace.”

Outside of the health care industry, he said, the professional, scientific and business consulting industries are growing rapidly. “This has created a lot of demand for a range of highly skilled college grads with various professional specialties,” he said. “Computer, science and IT are quite strong. Business degrees, especially in finance, accounting and related areas with strong quantitative abilities are strong.”

Comparing the Best and Worst 

According to the analysis: 

  • Houston has the highest cost-of-living-adjusted monthly median starting salary, three times greater than in Honolulu, the city with the lowest.
  • Detroit has the highest unemployment rate, six times greater than in Lincoln, Neb., the city with the lowest.
  • Providence, R.I., has the highest number of part-time employees for every 100 full-time employees, two times greater than in Plano, Texas, the city with the lowest.
  • Tallahassee, Fla., has the highest percentage of the workforce living under the poverty line, eight times greater than in Fremont, Calif., the city with the lowest.
  • Gilbert, Ariz., has the highest cost-of-living-adjusted median annual income, three times greater than in Cleveland, the city with the lowest.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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