The 20 Toughest U.S. Cities for Starting a Career

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uphill battle
rangizzz /

Here’s good news: This year started with the best hiring outlook for college graduates since 2007, says a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Almost 17% more graduates will be hired from the Class of 2019 than the year before.

That said, keep in mind that where you start your career can make a huge difference.

About 7 in 10 members of the class of 2019 have student loans and, according to CBS News, the average student debt load is about $33,000. If it takes all of your starter salary just to make rent, food and loan payments, you’ll never get ahead. And if low pay or a high cost of living keeps you from saving for emergencies or retirement, you’ll fall behind.

The personal finance site WalletHub ranked 182 U.S. cities for their “overall livability” for recent college graduates. The study looked at 29 data points, including starting salaries, the availability of entry-level jobs, unemployment rates and percentage of young adults in the population.

We honed in on the 20 toughest cities to begin your career, ending with the most challenging city of all for new workers.

20. Newark, New Jersey

Newark, New Jersey at night
mandritoiu /

Total score: 40.70

Newark doesn’t stack up well in WalletHub’s eyes. The study places Newark at 163rd of 182 cities overall.

Some big companies call Newark home, including, Prudential, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and Manischewtiz.

Despite that, Newark ranked 144th of the 182 cities for professional opportunities. Among factors were the number of entry-level jobs, salaries and job-growth, the number of workers in poverty, economic mobility, diversity, unemployment and under-employment. Access to and participation in employer-based retirement plans counted, too.

Newark came in close to the bottom — 172nd — for its quality of life. The study considered commute times and commuter-friendly jobs, the strength of social ties locally, housing affordability, the share of young adults, college education and a town’s friendliness for singles, families and fun, among other data. See the study’s Methodology section for a detailed explanation.

On the upside: Newark is becoming safer, says this report from real estate analyst Neighborhood Scout.

19. Gulfport, Mississippi

A man tapes windows of a home to protect against a hurricane
Lisa F. Young /

Total score: 40.64

Like a subtropical climate? You’ll probably like Gulfport, where the average snowfall is zero inches per year. Brace for hurricanes, however. Much of the city was flooded or wiped out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Gulfport came in 164th overall in this study of 182 cities. WalletHub ranked it 166th on the metric of professional opportunities and 139th for quality of life. What’s more, the percentage of folks without health insurance is nearly twice that of the state as a whole.

The upside:

  • For cash-strapped grads, Gulfport can be an affordable place to live. Median gross rent (rent plus utilities and fuel costs) is $1,000, according to Zillow.
  • Buying a home is affordable, too: Median monthly homeowner costs (including mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, fuel, condominium fees or mobile home costs) comes to just $1,144.

18. Columbus, Georgia

Columbus, Georgia skyline
Sean Pavone /

Total score: 40.57

The study ranks Columbus 164th of 182 cities overall, placing it 161st on the metric of professional opportunities and 142nd for quality of life.

Major employers here include the Fort Benning U.S. Army post, the county school district, hospitals, Aflac insurance company and the headquarters of the TSYS credit card processing company. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the median household income as $43,239.

So what’s the problem? A couple of indicators: That median household income, $43,239, is well below the state’s median of $52,977. And Columbus’ poverty rate, 22%, exceeds the state’s 15% rate.

17. Moreno Valley, California

Distressed employee with office belongings after losing job
Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley /

Total score: 40.07

If you’re planning to start at the bottom and work your way up, good luck. In this study, Moreno Valley came in 166th overall among 182 cities — and it was ranked 152nd for professional opportunities and 179th for quality of life.

It will probably take more than an entry-level job to secure housing here: Zillow finds that the median rent here is a steep $1,800 per month.

16. Brownsville, Texas

Roper in the rodeo
Roberto Galan /

Total score: 39.66

WalletHub ranked Brownsville at 167th overall for its overall livability for recent college grads. Scores on metrics used to compile that ranking include:

  • Professional opportunity: 149th of 182
  • Quality of life: 180th of 182

Median household income in Brownsville is low — $35,636, compared with a median income of $57,652 nationally. Almost one-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.

This also is not a young person’s city. WalletHub’s study ranks it low — 180th out of 182 — for the share of its population ages 25 to 34. And Brownsville was ranked dead last in WalletHub’s “Best and Worst Cities for Singles” study.

15. Fayetteville, North Carolina

historic Fayetteville train station built 1911 on Hay St. has only one platform and two tracks, with service provided by Amtrak.
Glynnis Jones /

Total score: 39.47

In its assessment, WalletHub ranks Fayetteville at 168th, overall. The city was 174th on the metric of professional opportunities and 124th for quality of life.

U.S. military troop reductions at nearby Fort Bragg have had a substantial effect on Fayetteville, reports WRAL-TV. An estimated 4,850 civilian jobs and $12.1 million in tax revenue were lost after reductions of 4,000 troops in 2017, according to the station.

Also, Fayetteville is affected by the Southeast’s annual six-month hurricane season, for which the city advises residents how to prepare. Hurricane Florence flooded Fayetteville in September 2018, damaging 1,200 city structures.

14. Santa Ana, California

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Total score: 39.31

In Santa Ana, located in California’s wealthy Orange County, the median value of a home is $547,800, according to Zillow. The median rental cost is $2,325, Zillow says. You’ll probably need a few roommates to share the rent payment if you make Santa Ana the starting point for your career.

WalletHub ranks Santa Ana 169th overall, with a ranking of 165th on the metric of professional opportunities and 168th for quality of life.

13. New York City

Woman flagging a taxi in New York.
oneinchpunch /

Total score: 39.31

If you can make it there, you’ll be lucky: The study ranks New York City the 13th worst place overall to start a career. To no one’s surprise, WalletHub finds that New York City has the least-affordable housing among all 182 cities studied.

The city also stood out in the report for its low starting salaries (relative to the cost of living) and relatively few entry-level jobs per 100,000 members of the working population.

That earns the Big Apple a WalletHub rank of 170th overall, with the breakdown of metrics finding it at 168th place for professional opportunities and 149th for quality of life.

There’s a bright side, though: If you can afford it, New York City ranks No. 3 among WalletHub’s “Most Fun Cities in America.”

12. Yonkers, New York

Cafe Worker in new Jersey
Sorbis /

Total score: 39.03

This New York City suburb ranked 171st in the WalletHub study of 182 cities, making it the 12th-worst place to start a career. Yonkers ranked 163rd for professional opportunities and 173rd for quality of life.

The median household income here, where a third of residents hold a bachelor’s degree, is high — $62,399, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It has to be, to afford someplace to live: The median home value is $517,600, and the median rent is $2,298, Zillow calculates.

11. Santa Clarita, California

Santa Clarita, California
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Total score: 38.97

If you’re starting from scratch, Santa Clarita could be a tough nut to crack: Ranked 172nd overall, it has the fewest entry-level jobs of any city WalletHub studied. Santa Clarita placed 160th in WalletHub’s field of 182 cities for professional opportunities and 175th for quality of life.

You’ll probably need relatives or friends to crash with while you hunt for a job. The median home value is $545,000, and the median rent is $2,685, Zillow finds.

10. Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson, Mississippi
Sean Pavone /

Total score: 38.78

Jackson isn’t the worst city for starting a career, but it’s not far from the bottom. About 1 in 3 residents live in poverty, the U.S. Census Bureau says (noting that the median household income is a modest $35,308).

WalletHub ranks Jackson 167th for both professional opportunity and quality of life.

In a 2018 study, The Safest Cities in America, WalletHub ranked Jackson 173rd out of 182. The city’s murder rate currently is at a 20-year high.

9. Newport News, Virginia

Smiling hired young woman company employee unpacking box new job shared office intern or newcomer new job start work
fizkes /

Total score: 38.76

Newport News came in at 174th out of 182 cities in WalletHub’s study. The report places the city at 177th for professional opportunities and 128th for quality of life.

The good news is that crime overall is going down in this Virginia city, the city’s crime reports show. The bad news: Aggravated assaults have risen dramatically since 2016.

8. Toledo, Ohio

Toledo, Ohio
T.Slack /

Total score: 38.66

At No. 175 in WalletHub’s study, Toledo appears to be a troubled town. The report ranks it 172nd for professional opportunity and 159th for quality of life.

Ohio has been named ground zero for illicit use of the synthetic opiod fentanyl, according to the Toledo Blade, and Ohio is suing a drug maker over the opioid crisis.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 27% of Toledo residents live in poverty and 1 in 10 have no health insurance.

7. New Haven, Connecticut

Yale University
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Total score: 38.05

WalletHub’s “Best & Worst Cities for People With Disabilities” report says New Haven has the second-lowest employment rate for people with disabilities. For this and other reasons, the Connecticut town was ranked as the worst place for the disabled. More than a quarter of New Haven residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

New Haven is home to Yale University. The median home value is $172,100, according to Zillow, and the median rent in the city is $1,550.

6. Pearl City, Hawaii

Maridav /

Total score: 38.00

This town on the island of Oahu, neighboring Honolulu and U.S. Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, ties for having the lowest monthly average starting salary in WalletHub’s study.

And yet, as WalletHub’s “Best & Worst Places to Retire” points out, Pearl City has an extremely high adjusted cost of living, placing it in a category with San Francisco and New York City.

Bring plenty of roommates if you want to move here. The median rent price is $2,100, according to Zillow, and the median home value is an astronomical $723,600.

5. Oxnard, California

Woman surfing
oneinchpunch /

Total score: 36.38

Oxnard, on the Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, comes in 178th out of the 182 cities in the WalletHub study. Reflecting the costly nature of coastal California life, another WalletHub study, “Best & Worst Cities for Staycations,” put Oxnard 181st out of 182 locales, at virtually the bottom of the barrel, as far as having “wallet-friendly” opportunities for recreation, food, entertainment and relaxation.

Oh, and Oxnard is near close to half a dozen fault lines, including the San Andreas (42 miles away). One city report notes that “a major earthquake occurring in or near the city of Oxnard may cause many deaths and casualties, extensive property damage, fires and hazardous material spills and other ensuing hazards.”

Contributing to its low ranking, Oxnard placed 179th for professional opportunities and 170th for quality of life.

4. Bridgeport, Connecticut

fence Winter Park Bridgeport, Connecticut
LBSimms /

Total score: 36.36

Bridgeport, not far from Yale University location New Haven, once was a powerful manufacturing city, but it has lost most of its industry.

These days, Bridgeport’s median household income is $44,841.

According to FBI statistics, in 2017 Bridgeport had 1,315 violent crimes and 3,416 property crimes.

The median home value is $175,500 and rising, Zillow says. The median rent is $1,600 a month — a lot to swing on an entry-level salary. Getting ahead won’t be easy.

3. Hialeah, Florida

Hialeah, Florida
esfera /

Total score: 35.75

Hialeah comes in at No. 180 in this WalletHub survey of 182 cities, making it one of the worst places to start a career.

Perhaps one reason: Hialeah has the fifth-lowest number of people ages 25 to 34 in the 182 cities.

The median home value here is $286,300, and the median rent price is $2,000, according to Zillow. WalletHub ranks the city 164th out of 182 for professional opportunity and puts it dead last — No. 182 — for quality of life.

2. Montgomery, Alabama

Statue of Hank Williams in Montgomery, Alabama.
JNix /

Total score: 35.29

Hope to become a parent someday? Know this: The State of Alabama took over the Montgomery school district in 2017 due to its poor student achievement test results. According to the Alabama News Network, the district went from an all-around “D” grade to a “C” grade within a year. Progress, but still a ways to go.

Census statistics place the median household income in Montgomery at $44,339. Even so, 22% of residents live in poverty.

One more reason to be wary: In WalletHub’s study of best and worst cities for singles, Montgomery limped in at 166th out of 182. Not as bad as No. 182 in that report, Brownsville, Texas. Still, not encouraging if you’re young and single.

1. Shreveport, Louisiana

Shreveport, Louisiana
Sean Pavone /

Total score: 35.19

If you like the idea of living in a humid city that’s partly cloudy year-round, with temperatures into the high 90s in the summer and in the 30s in the winter, come on down!

Just don’t expect to get a job right off the bat. Shreveport earns low marks from WalletHub for career opportunities (180th) and quality of life (178th). In its separate “Best Cities for Jobs” report, WalletHub ranks Shreveport’s job market 178th out of 182.

On the upside, the median rent in Shreveport is an affordable $785, according to Zillow.

You might instead want to consider checking out Salt Lake City, ranked in the WalletHub report as the very best city for starting your career.

What do you think of WalletHub’s assessment of these cities? Tell us about it in a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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