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Sweet-spot cities for good pay and affordable homes

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Latest MoneyWatch headlines 01:08

Working in a fast-growing industry and earning a healthy salary doesn’t always guarantee a good quality of life. 

As rents and housing prices soar in big coastal cities such as New York and San Francisco, professionals find themselves left with less disposable income than those in previous generations. Pricey housing in New York means a family earning as much as $200,000 might feel as if they’re struggling to hold onto a middle-class lifestyle, which can seem unfathomable to families in less expensive parts of the country. 

Professionals in the fast-growing industries of finance, tech and health care may feel as if they’re tied to expensive coastal cities because of career opportunities. Yet new research from real estate site Zillow and career-focused LinkedIn (LNKD) has uncovered the top cities that provide the sweet spot between high pay and affordable housing, and many aren’t the usual suspects. 

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To be sure, many jobs in these industries provide lucrative compensation, which means these cities may be unaffordable for workers in lower-paying careers, such as retail or early childhood education. 

“Most people set out to consider, ‘OK, where can I get a good job?’ That’s their main source of income, and one of the biggest outflows is your housing costs,” said Zillow chief economist Svenja Gudell. “Balancing those two -- the inflow and outflow -- is key for most people. The sweet spot is finding where do I have the most money left over” after paying for housing. 

The study examined housing and employment data, including job listings, salaries and the percent of workers hired within the past year in the three industries. The latter is important to gauge what Gudell calls “velocity,” or the strength of a region’s hiring. While many Americans relocate for work, it’s best to move to a city that will offer other career opportunities for advancement or in case a job doesn’t work out. 

“We wanted to be sure you didn’t just get a random job in that city, but that you have future opportunities,” she said. 

Professionals in finance would be better served by looking outside the New York metropolitan region, the study found. Because of high housing costs, New York City ranked only sixth on the list for employees in the finance sector. The top bet? Charlotte, North Carolina, where renters who work in finance have almost $3,700 in disposable income per month after paying for typical housing costs. 

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The top city for health care workers is Phoenix, Arizona. Renters who work in that industry are left with disposable income of about $3,800 per month after paying the rent, the study found. 

The top city for tech workers is Seattle, Washington, where renters have almost $5,500 in disposable income after their housing costs.

One surprise: San Francisco scored fairly well on the survey, even though the median home value in the city is $789,300. Because tech workers enjoy high salaries in San Francisco, they pulled ahead of workers in some cities where incomes are lower. 

Below are the top 10 cities for each of the three industries, with the amount of disposable income remaining after paying rent. The rankings are based on a combination of job and housing data, which is why the disposable incomes aren’t in order of greatest from least. 


1. Charlotte, North Carolina ($3,685)

2. Dallas/Fort Worth ($3,597)

3. Phoenix, Arizona ($3,249)

4. Boston ($3,198)

5. Chicago ($3,453)

6. New York City ($3,142)

7. Seattle ($4,163)

8. Austin, Texas ($3,495)

9. Minneapolis-St. Paul ($3,429)

10. San Francisco ($2,794)

Health care

1. Phoenix, Arizona ($3,793)

2. Indianapolis ($3,111)

3. Boston ($2,861)

4. Denver ($2,580)

5. Austin, Texas ($3,846)

6. Minneapolis-St. Paul ($3,087)

7. Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida ($3,297)

8. Seattle ($3,502)

9. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ($3,403)

10. Nashville, Tennessee ($3,503)


1. Seattle ($5,493)

2. Austin, Texas ($4,336)

3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ($3,681)

4. San Francisco ($3,964)

5. Dallas/Fort Worth ($4,121)

6. Denver ($3,373)

7. Charlotte, North Carolina ($3,600)

8. Boston ($3,532)

9. Minneapolis-St. Paul ($3,419)

10. Detroit ($3,925)

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