The pandemic has given unprecedented flexibility and mobility to Americans who are able to work remotely and that’s changing where the best cities are for jobs.
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Small and mid-sized cities, all with populations well under 1 million, claimed the top 10 best U.S. cities for employment, according to a new study from WalletHub. South Burlington, Vermont outranked more than 180 other cities for its overall promise of job opportunities, low unemployment, and median annual income.
“These smaller places can now be transformed into kind of new job market hubs on their own,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub’s senior analyst, dubbing them “the new forefront of the job market...moving for a job, I think is becoming possibly a thing of the past.”
Even before the pandemic, Americans were fleeing populated states like New York and California to escape high taxes and expensive housing. Remote work has since enabled a segment of workers to tap into the benefits of lower costs of living with gainful employment in smaller cities.
WalletHub evaluated 182 of the most-populated U.S. cities — including at least two of the most populated cities in each state — by analyzing 32 metrics. Each city was assigned a score based on job opportunities, employment growth, starting salaries, and socioeconomic indicators like median income, housing affordability, and safety, along with an overall score.
Additionally, COVID-19 metrics were added to this year’s rankings, and the measures for weekly cases and mortality were weighted more over commute times and transit accessibility.
“This year is more of an anomaly than last. We’ve been doing this study now for five years and we do see a lot of the same cities in the past 10 or 20,” Gonzalez said. “This year, we saw a little bit of a shakeup.”
Best cities for job seekers
Job seekers may not want to gravitate toward major metropolises and instead pivot their searches to small to mid-sized cities, the data indicates.
Case in point: this year’s overall top city is South Burlington, Vermont, with a population of just under 20,000, scored high marks for its thriving job market and socioeconomic measures like safety and affordable housing.
Rounding out the top 10 are other mid-tier cities like Columbia, Maryland (No. 2); Virginia Beach, Virginia (No. 3); Salt Lake City (No. 4); Boise, Idaho (No. 5); Scottsdale, Arizona (No. 6); Chesapeake, Virginia (No. 7); Seattle (No. 8); Colorado Springs, Colorado (No. 9); and Plano, Texas (No. 10), according to the study.
Cities where it’s difficult to find a job
Hialeah, Florida; Shreveport, Louisiana; Detroit; Brownsville, Texas; and North Las Vegas, Nevada were identified as the five worst scoring cities in the country, according to WalletHub.
Of the 20 lowest-ranking cities, six of them are in California: San Bernardino (No. 172), Glendale (No. 171), Los Angeles (No. 169), Stockton (No. 168), Santa Clarita (No. 167), and Long Beach (No. 166).
The Golden State leads the country in terms of worst job market indicators like job opportunities and employment growth, and socioeconomic factors like housing affordability and average work and commute time, the study found.
What will become of major working hubs?
Recent data from the Census Bureau indicates that moving levels are at a 72-year low and more people are searching for remote-work opportunities. But uncertainty about working in general remains and that could be what’s precluding the masses from picking up and moving.
The pandemic’s cruelty has been evident in the U.S. job market. While unemployment has rebounded from 14.7% in April to 6.7%, President Trump’s term ended with 3 million fewer jobs than when he started in 2017. The economy still needs to add at least 9.8 million jobs to be back to its pre-pandemic levels.
With people largely staying put, Gonzalez predicts offices and workspaces will pop up in smaller cities to accommodate booming job markets and those looking to return to office life.
“We won't see people really moving for new opportunities for quite some time,” she said.