Salary Breakdown: Comparing Income & Cost of Living for Top Metro Areas

Salary isn’t everything. When it comes to tech jobs, the median salary is starting to level off, and some employers are boosting their perks and benefits packages rather than paying out additional cash to on-boarding tech pros. Still, money matters, and in light of that, which metro areas take your salary the furthest?

In the Dice Salary Survey, we use salary data reported by tech pros across the United States. We then break down salary data by metro area, comparing income versus the cost of living (the latter as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis).

All told, there are some striking discoveries. The first thing we should point out (as we have so many times before) is that Silicon Valley isn’t the best place to live if you’re trying to stretch a buck. Tech pros living there earn a much higher salary than in any other metro area by a wide margin, but the cost of living adjustment dings pretty hard. When it’s all said and done, cities such as Detroit, Raleigh, Tampa, and Portland all beat Silicon Valley handily when it comes to monetary livability (to coin a phrase).

There were a few metro areas Silicon Valley beat, though. San Diego has a worse cost of living adjustment, and your ‘net’ income in D.C./Baltimore is likewise pretty bad. Los Angeles is comparatively worse, and tech pros in New York both earn less and have a far worse cost-of-living adjustment.

If we’re being critical, ‘destination’ cities are ones tech pros should avoid. Silicon Valley (not a city, true, but for tech pros it’s pretty interchangeable), Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Boston, Miami… all of these metro areas have cost of living adjustments that make the flashy salary a moot point. Specifically, we’d avoid Miami; tech pros in South Beach earn far less than any other city on our list, and the high cost of living makes it the worst metro area for tech pros by a wide margin.

Those places you may not initially consider are proving their worth. Phoenix, Raleigh, Charlotte, Detroit, Orlando, St. Louis, and Atlanta all have positive cost of living adjustments. If you compared two jobs, one in Charlotte and the other in Silicon Valley, the bottom line on your offer sheet would suggest Silicon Valley is the place to be. But factoring in cost of living, you’d be foolish not to see what North Carolina has to offer.

According to the Dice Salary Survey, the average tech pro salary in 2018 was $93,244. On the chart above, all cities above Philadelphia have average gross earnings better than that mark, but only three (Tampa, Portland, and Seattle) have adjusted gross incomes that beat the average tech pro salary.

Conversely, five cities below the average tech pro salary (Phoenix, Raleigh, Charlotte, Detroit, and St. Louis) all have adjusted cost of living wages that beat the average income for tech pros.

Money isn’t everything, but it’s important. One way employers are incentivizing employees is via perks such as remote work and more time off. In a Dice survey, we found good health benefits and the ability to work remotely to be the most sought-after perks in tech. The Dice Salary Survey shows health insurance is key, but notes paid vacation and 401(k) matching are also critical.

Skills are quickly becoming a way tech pros can earn more. By ‘up-skilling’ your skillset, you’re able to provide more value to an employer, which in turn increases your value on the job market. We don’t advise becoming a master-of-none ‘full stack’ anything, but continually expanding your knowledge base is proving to be lucrative (and if you’re curious just how lucrative, give our salary calculator a shot).

Perks and up-skilling don’t detract from the main point: avoid cities with heavy cost of living adjustments. Earning more is always great, and being in a city where the cost of living isn’t soul-crushing just makes you feel that much better about work (and your skillset). And if you don’t have to commute – even better.

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