Snapshot: This article provides an overview of RN salaries throughout the United States. It explains the methodology and limitations of the data presented here, summarizes it, and draws some conclusions about state, regional, and city-level salary differences.
- The data collected here provides a survey of RN salaries throughout the United States. There is a wide range of RN salaries across U.S. states and municipalities.
- The data for U.S. states is presented in map format; you can hover over a state on each of the maps to see relevant salary or cost of living data for that state. The table for major metropolitan areas is presented in table format, organized alphabetically by state.
- This salary information is based on median, not average, RN salaries. In a set of data, the median is the ‘middle’ number, when those values are rank-ordered from lowest to highest, or from highest to lowest. Median salaries are more statistically useful than simple averages, because the median is less likely to be skewed by salaries that are very low or very high. RN median salary information is derived from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and is updated annually.
- The salary information used here represents salaries for established, mid-career RN’s. New graduates and younger nurses should expect salaries at least 20% to 25% less than the figures shown here. Older, more established nurses, or nurses who have risen to administrative or management positions, may command higher salaries.
- This salary information does not make distinctions based on clinical domain or work setting. For example, nurses in fast-paced, high-tech, acute care hospital settings typically command the highest salaries. Nurses in outpatient facilities, home health agencies, and other non-acute care settings typically earn less. That said, median salary figures do reveal important state, regional and even city-level differences.
- The cost of living data is drawn from survey research conducted by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). This organization publishes a ‘cost of living index,’ which is updated quarterly (four times each year). This cost of living index measures relative price levels for common goods and services in participating municipal areas throughout the U.S., and takes into account costs such as housing, transportation, healthcare, groceries, and the price of basic goods and services. It does not take into account inflation, nor does it adjust for state or municipal differences in levels of taxation.
- The ‘average’ of cost of living is given a score of 100.0. A state or municipality with a cost of living less than this number has a lower overall cost of living than the U.S. average; if the number is greater than 100.0, the overall cost of living is higher than the U.S. average. For example, a state or municipality with a cost of living index of 96.5 is about 3.5% less expensive than the U.S. average (100.0 – 96.5 = 3.5), and a state or municipality with a cost of living index of 112.5 would be about 12.5% more expensive than the U.S. average (112.5 – 100.0 = 12.5).
- Data collection by C2ER is a voluntary effort that depends on the local cooperation of chambers of commerce. Not all U.S. municipalities participate.
- There is a great deal of variation in both median RN salaries across states and metropolitan areas, and a great deal of variation in cost of living across states and metropolitan areas.
- The highest RN salaries are found in California, topping out at over $100,000 per year in many cities and metropolitan areas in Northern California and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The lowest salaries are found in the South and the Midwest, bottoming out at just over $45,000 per year in many of these municipalities.
- Cost of living is similarly variable, ranging from extreme highs, at close to double the U.S. average, in cities like New York, Honolulu, and San Francisco (and throughout much of the Northeast and West Coast) to much less expensive locales, with costs of living below the U.S. average, throughout the South and Midwest.
- When adjusted for local variations in cost of living, many Northeastern states and cities don’t pay as well as they seem. While RN salaries tend to be higher than the U.S. median in these places, the local cost of living in the Northeast (especially in more expensive coastal areas) greatly reduces the value of RN salaries.
- Conversely, even though the cost of living in West Coast states (such as California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada) is higher than the U.S. average, RN salaries in these locations do a much better job of ‘keeping up’ with the local cost of living. Texas, which offers fairly average RN salaries but has a relatively low cost of living, also comes out well when RN salaries are adjusted for cost of living.