15 Cities Where Pay Is Rising the Fastest

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Smartest Dollar.

On the surface, the economy of the last two years has been extremely favorable to workers.

After spiking to nearly 15% early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate today sits around 3.5%. Despite employers’ urgency to hire, labor force participation has been slower to recover, and the “Great Resignation” has workers quitting at historic rates in search of better jobs.

With these factors contributing to a tight labor market, workers have more choice of job opportunities, and more employers have been raising wages to hire and retain employees. As a result, nominal wages are growing faster than at any point in at least two decades.

But rising inflation over the course of 2021 and 2022 has taken a bite out of rising wages. Year-over-year inflation (YoY), as measured by the Consumer Price Index, has hovered around or above 8% for much of 2022.

Prices for essential expenses like food, shelter, and energy have skyrocketed due to supply challenges. With prices rising so quickly, workers are discovering that their increased pay does not go as far as they had hoped.

While nominal wages continue to rise to record heights, inflation-adjusted wages have shown signs of decline. In non-adjusted dollars, average weekly wages spiked to $1,339 in the last quarter of 2020 and rose again to $1,418 in the last quarter of 2021. But in inflation-adjusted dollars, wages actually decreased by 0.8% over that span, from $1,429 to $1,418.

To determine the locations where pay is rising the fastest, researchers at Smartest Dollar—a review website for small business insurance—calculated the non-adjusted percentage change in wages from Quarter 4 of 2020 to Quarter 4 of 2021. The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Read our methodology at the end.

Here are the large U.S. metros (population 1 million or more) where wages are rising fastest.

15. New Orleans-Metairie, LA

stormy sky in New Orleans, Louisiana
GJGK Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +6.3%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): -0.4%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$75
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,265
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,190

14. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

Seattle, Washington
evenfh / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +6.6%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): -0.1%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$126
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $2,033
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,907

13. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

Charlotte North Carolina
Kevin Ruck / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +6.8%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +0.1%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$87
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,358
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,271

12. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA

Atlanta cityscape
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +7.0%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +0.3%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$94
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,436
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,342

11. Cleveland-Elyria, OH

Cleveland, Ohio
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  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +7.1%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +0.3%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$87
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,319
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,232

10. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

Chicago, Illinois
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  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +7.2%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +0.4%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$104
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,556
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,452

9. Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City, Utah
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  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +7.3%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +0.6%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$96
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,407
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,311

8. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL

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  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +8.1%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +1.3%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$92
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,233
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,141

7. Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN

Nashville, Tennessee
jdross75 / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +8.3%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +1.5%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$107
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,398
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,291

6. Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Austin Urton / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +8.3%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +1.5%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$126
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,635
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,509

5. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

Denver, Colorado
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  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +8.4%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +1.6%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$127
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,639
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,512

4. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

The skyline of San Jose, which has a lower median rent than median mortgage payment
stellamc / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +8.8%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +2.0%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$322
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $3,961
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $3,639

3. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL

Tampa, Florida
Ilya Images / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +9.0%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +2.2%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$108
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,302
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,194

2. Raleigh-Cary, NC

Raleigh, North Carolina
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +9.6%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +2.7%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$123
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,405
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,282

1. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL

meunierd / Shutterstock.com
  • Non-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +12.1%
  • Inflation-adjusted percentage change in wages (YoY): +5.0%
  • Non-adjusted total change in weekly wages (YoY): +$156
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2021: $1,446
  • Average weekly wages Q4 2020: $1,290

Methodology

Man studying data on his computer
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The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. To determine the locations where pay is rising the fastest, researchers calculated the non-adjusted percentage change in wages from Quarter 4 of 2020 to Quarter 4 of 2021. In the event of a tie, the location with the greater non-adjusted total change in weekly wages from Quarter 4 of 2020 to Quarter 4 of 2021 was ranked higher. Note: Only locations with complete data available during this time period were considered in this analysis.