The recession was kind to college graduates, new data from online salary database PayScale.com shows. Some cities showed wage growth for people with degrees of up to 15 percent since 2007. Across the nation, wages for college grads rose an average of three percent in the past four years, PayScale found.
Where is the salary growth the hottest for college grads? PayScale's analysis of the 100 largest market areas in the country identified the best and worst cities for salary growth for those with a degree. Also listed is the median, annual salary growth percentage over the last three years in each area.
Best Markets for Salary Growth
1. Honolulu, Hi. Hawaii's median wage back in 2007 was lower than the national average of $55,000, so employers here may be playing catch-up, notes Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at PayScale. The city also hosts major military facilities, and is home to two universities which together employ more than 23,000, Hoovers reports. ($55,800, +15%) "Universities provide stable pay and employment," says Lee.
2. Allentown–Bethlehem–Easton, Penn.-NJ. If you've still got that old Billy Joel song in your head about rust-belt hard times in Allentown, forget it. These days, Lee says, this region is a bustling center for healthcare services, one of the few industries that has kept growing right through the downturn. ($58,700, +15%)
3. El Paso, Texas. Two words: border patrol. "National defense is huge here," says Lee, "and healthcare is strong." The area's lower-than-average wage may have been ripe for an upward swing, too. ($49,000, +14%)
4. San Francisco–Oakland–Fremont, Calif. The Bay Area was a high-paying market to start with, notes Lee McPheters, director of the Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University. Hiring highly-skilled workers away from local competitors requires a salary bump, and recruiting from across the country demands high pay to coax hires west. The region is strong in healthcare, too, an industry where unemployment rates are low – 3.2 percent currently for hospital workers – and labor shortages tend to drive up wages. ($73,800, +14%)
5. Virginia Beach–Norfolk–Newport News, Va.-NC. As in El Paso, military bases are a major employer here, with well-paid jobs for officers, pilots, nuclear engineers, and intelligence analysts. ($51,900, +14%)
Worst Markets for Salary Growth
1. Harrisburg–Carlisle, Penn. Here, budget cuts in the state capitol of Harrisburg led to 800 layoffs last year, and more are planned. Add in dwindling manufacturing output and more layoffs, and wages start to shrink. ($49,900, -4%)
2. Portland–Vancouver–Beaverton, Ore.-Wash. Slower computer sales is the likely culprit here, depressing wages for tech professionals. Big area employers such as Intel scaled back last year and are just starting to recover. ($57,100, -1%)
3. Springfield, Mass. Here, Lee says, there's simply no strong driver to bring wage growth. Social workers were the top-paid professionals, PayScale's research shows. ($49,700, -1%)
4. Youngstown–Warren–Boardman, Ohio-Penn. This region is strong in auto-industry related businesses, such as automotive parts makers. "There's still a ripple effect out there from the auto industry," says Lee. ($44,200, -1%)
Business writer Carol Tice is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times and other major publications. Contact her at caroltice.com
Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing. Growth rankings track three-year median pay trends from 2007-2010.