Where the Highest-Paying Jobs Are

Ever wonder where the highest-paying jobs in your field are? Now, courtesy of the Bureau of  Labor Statistics (BLS), we have some answers.

Late last week, the BLS released a report (via Catherine Rampell of The New York Times Economix) showing the U.S. metros with the highest-paying jobs in nine major occupational categories including: business, finance, and management; professional and technical work; service; office work; construction; and blue-collar production jobs, among others. The BLS measures what it calls "average pay relative" which includes wages, salaries, commissions, and bonuses. And, its calculations control for differences in the composition of jobs, industry, firm-level, and occupational characteristics, and the fact that data are collected at different times during the year. As the BLS defines it: "The average pay relative for all occupations and each occupational group equals 100." A figure above 100 reflects the percentage above the national norm, while values below 100 reflect the percentage below that norm.

The chart below shows the pay profile for a series of U.S. metro regions. San Francisco is highest, followed by Greater New York, Salinas, California, and Greater Boston, which are all above the U.S. norm.

The second chart below shows the two highest-paying metros for each of the nine major occupational groupings in the BLS analysis. The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the two top-paying metros in six categories. Salinas, California, numbers among the top two in four job categories. Greater New York ranks in three. Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis-St.Paul, Sacramento, and Providence each have one.

The upshot of all of this is that America is splitting into two distinct kinds of regional economies - a small set of affluent regions with relatively large concentrations of well-paying occupations, and a much larger set of less-advantaged regions with less-skilled, more poorly paying ones. In this kind of world, the ability to achieve the American Dream of economic opportunity and upward socioeconomic mobility increasingly turns on where you live.

This overlays the nation's worsening income inequality with a glaring geographic dimension. America is becoming increasingly sorted not just by culture and attitudes, political party, or favorite candidate, but by powerful economic  forces - human capital level, skill, type of work, and, ultimately, pay and income. Given this underlying economic geography of work, money, and class, it's little surprise that America's politics continues along its current polarized and rancorous path.