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Top 10 U.S. cities where your salary goes furthest

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  • While employees flock to the biggest U.S. cities, many smaller cities offer higher pay when the cost of living is factored in.
  • The metropolitan area with the highest average salary after adjusting for living expenses is Brownsville-Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
  • The metros with the lowest pay once the cost of living is factored tend to be on the coast and near the beach.

Americans seeking the fattest paychecks might be drawn to prosperous California cities like San Jose in Silicon Valley or tempted to try their luck in bustling New York City. But once the sky-high cost of living in such places is factored in, they just might find that the biggest bucks are to be found in smaller metros.

The top 10 U.S. cities with the highest salaries after adjusting for living costs are typically in the center of the country and far away from the coasts, according to a recent report by Indeed. Excluding those costs, salaries in cities with a population of at least 2 million are 7% higher than in other areas — but when housing and other living expenses are added to the mix, those big-city paychecks are in fact 9% lower, the job-search firm found.

The metro area that offers the highest salary after accounting for living costs: Brownsville-Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley region in Texas, with an adjusted salary at $83,700. Others that offer a big bang for the buck include Fort Smith, Arkansas; Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia; Visalia-Porterville, California; Toledo, Ohio; Laredo, Texas; Rockford, Illinois; Modesto, California; Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, Tennessee; and Canton-Massillon, Ohio. 

Indeed based its findings on the average annual salaries listed for all vacant jobs on its platform for the 12 months ending in April. Cost of living data included housing, services and physical goods.

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The metros with the lowest pay once cost of living is factored in? They're mostly found on the coast and near the beach, including Honolulu, Hawaii; Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/North Carolina; Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida; and Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut.

The difference in adjusted salaries for the same job can vary greatly from place to place. Indeed found that the same job, after adjusting for living costs, pays 49% more on average in Brownsville, Texas, than in Honolulu. Adjusted salaries in Atlanta are 15% higher than in Miami, while they are 22% higher in Modesto, California, than in Vallejo. 

There's at least one exception to the rule: technology jobs. While small cities generally boast higher adjusted salaries when it comes to the sales, transportation and health care sectors, they lag when it comes to tech occupations. Typical tech sector salaries are 27% higher in large metros and 5% higher for the same work after adjusting for cost of living. 

Here are the top 10 metro areas with the highest salaries including the cost of living:

Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas
Unadjusted: $70,000
Adjusted: $83,700

Fort Smith, Arkansas
Unadjusted: $69,100
Adjusted: $82,300

Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia
Unadjusted: $70,000
Adjusted: $81,700 

Visalia-Porterville, California 
Unadjusted: $75,800
Adjusted: $80,700 

Toledo, Ohio
Unadjusted: $70,000
Adjusted: $79,800

Laredo, Texas 
Unadjusted: $70,000
Adjusted: $79,100

Rockford, Illinois 
Unadjusted: $69,900
Adjusted: $79,000

Modesto, California 
Unadjusted: $77,000
Adjusted: $78,400

Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, Tennessee 
Unadjusted: $66,900
Adjusted: $78,400

Canton-Massillon, Ohio
Unadjusted: $68,400
Adjusted: $78,300

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