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Examining the Toughest Cities for Nurses: Low Compensation and High Living Expenses

Nurses (Credits: Coursera)

The U.S. has been experiencing a national nursing shortage for several years, and one factor contributing to this shortage is inadequate pay. As a result, many nurses have chosen to travel the country or leave the profession altogether in search of better pay.

In addition, nurses nationwide have gone on strike demanding raises and improved working conditions due to uncompetitive pay. According to MoneyGeek, which analyzed nurses’ salaries in over 100 metro areas in the U.S., compensation varies significantly based on location, tax implications, and living costs.

Local governments in some states make decisions that either help or hurt nurses in the area. The average gross pay for a registered nurse in the U.S. is $86,070. However, when adjusted for taxes and the cost-of-living index, the average take-home pay is $65,414.

Nursing (Credits: American Nurses Association)

Considering taxes and local cost of living, the most challenging metro areas for registered nurses include Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV, Honolulu, HI, and Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH. On the other hand, two states with several metro areas that surpassed the average salary for registered nurses are California and Texas.

The Sacramento area ranked number one, with registered nurses taking home $88,847, nearly $10,000 more than any other metro area in the country. Texas had three cities in the top 10, with Houston ranking second at $79,520.

Due to the significant variation in nurses’ salaries depending on where they work in the country, there has been a growing trend of travel nurses across the U.S. According to the latest National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report from NSI, the average travel nurse can earn up to $102 per hour or a little over $212,000 annually, depending on the location.

Nursing Specialists (Credits:

This is more than double what the average registered nurse earns. Most travel nurses work 13-week contracts and can move from one role to another with each new contract, allowing them to choose where to go to maximize their earnings by year’s end. Factors such as the time of year or a crisis in the area can also increase pay for travel nurses.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel nurses earned up to $5,000 weekly. Zippia’s analysis of travel nurse demographics shows what they would earn on average in each county in the country if they worked there for a year. Almost 59% of all travel nurses are over 40, with 28% between 30 and 40 years old, and 14% under 30.

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