10 Best Cities for High Salaries and Low Cost of Living in the West

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Manchester, New Hampshire, in the fall.

Image source: Getty Images

When you think of the Northeastern United States, “affordable” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind. This part of the country has a reputation for an extremely high cost of living, particularly when it comes to housing costs.

But even expensive cities can still be affordable if the typical salary there is high enough. That’s especially true for this region. The Ascent put together a list of the 10 best cities in the Northeast for high salaries and low cost of living. What they all had in common was a median income that was better, and often much better, than the national median.

Editor’s note: We’ve also included a list of professions that are overrepresented in these areas compared to other cities as well as unemployment figures — use these to get an idea of which types of jobs might be most available in each area and how the job market is currently performing. We’ve also pointed out the median property value in each city in case you’re thinking about moving there and need to plan your new mortgage.

The 10 best places to live in the Northeast for high salaries and low cost of living

These 10 Northeastern cities have the best ratio of high salaries to low cost of living.

The higher this ratio is, the more money that a typical resident with average income and expenses will have left after paying their bills.

Affordability ranking

City

Estimated income-to-expense ratio

Cost of living estimate

Median household income

1

Manchester, New Hampshire

1.219

$68,583

$83,626

2

Middlesex, New Jersey

1.147

$72,491

$83,160

3

Morristown, New Jersey

1.133

$73,374

$83,160

4

Stamford, Connecticut

1.133

$85,666

$97,053

5

Passaic, New Jersey

1.081

$76,904

$83,160

6

Hartford, Connecticut

1.078

$71,420

$77,005

7

Elizabeth, New Jersey

1.071

$77,660

$83,160

8

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1.057

$70,537

$74,533

9

Allentown, Pennsylvania

1.054

$67,196

$70,793

10

Wilmington. Delaware

1.033

$72,176

$75,533

1. Manchester, New Hampshire

Manchester, New Hampshire in autumn.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.219
Cost of living index: 108.8
Cost of living estimate: $68,583
Median household income: $83,626
Median property value: $217,100
Population: 111,700 (415,200 in Manchester-Nashau metro area)
Unemployment rate: 4.4%

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The cost of living index in Manchester is 8.8% more than the national average, but a median income 21.7% above the national median helps make up for that. In addition to high wages, the city also has a low unemployment rate.

Compared to other areas, Manchester has more residents than expected who work in production occupations, community and social service occupations, and architecture and engineering occupations.

2. Middlesex, New Jersey

Autumn leaves in New Jersey.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.147
Cost of living index: 115.0
Cost of living estimate: $72,491
Median household income: $83,160
Median property value: $300,400
Population: 13,700 (20 million in New York-Newark-Jersey metro area)
Unemployment rate: 6.6%

In Middlesex, the median income is 21.0% higher than the national median. That makes the area affordable even with a cost of living index that’s 15% greater than the national average. The unemployment rate also comes out slightly ahead of the average across the nation.

An unusually high number of Middlesex residents work in architecture and engineering; installation, maintenance, and repair occupations; and sales.

3. Morristown, New Jersey

Morristown, New Jersey.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.133
Cost of living index: 116.4
Cost of living estimate: $73,374
Median household income: $83,160
Median property value: $459,900
Population: 18,800 (20 million in New York-Newark-Jersey metro area)
Unemployment rate: 5.9%

Morristown has a median income 21.0% higher than the median for the entire country, so a cost of living index that’s 16.4% above the national average is still reasonable. The unemployment rate is also better than the national average.

As far as jobs go, the number of residents working in life, physical, and social science occupations is two times higher than expected in Morristown. There are also nearly twice as many residents as expected who work in either business and financial occupations or legal occupations.

4. Stamford, Connecticut

Stamford, Connecticut from river.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.133
Cost of living index: 135.9
Cost of living estimate: $85,666
Median household income: $97,053
Median property value: $526,700
Population: 129,000 (943,800 in Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk metro area)
Unemployment rate: 6.8%

Stamford comes in ever so slightly behind Morristown. Despite having the highest cost of living index on this list, 35.9% greater than the national average, it balances that out with a median income 41.3% higher than the national median. The unemployment rate is slightly higher than the national average.

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Occupations that are overrepresented in Stamford include business and financial operations, building and grounds cleaning and maintenance operations, and legal occupations.

5. Passaic, New Jersey

River and park in Passaic, New Jersey.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.081
Cost of living index: 122.0
Cost of living estimate: $76,904
Median household income: $83,160
Median property value: $325,800
Population: 70,100 (20 million in New York-Newark-Jersey metro area)
Unemployment rate: 11.0%

The median income in Passaic comes in 21.0% higher than the national median. That’s quite similar to its cost of living index, which is exactly 22.0% more than the national average. Unfortunately, many residents are out of work, as the city has a sky-high unemployment rate.

Material moving is big business in Passaic, as it’s by far the most overrepresented industry in the city. Production occupations, along with construction and extraction occupations, are also popular.

6. Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford, Connecticut, with park in foreground.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.078
Cost of living index: 113.3
Cost of living estimate: $71,420
Median household income: $77,005
Median property value: $162,800
Population: 123,600
Unemployment rate: 12.9%

Hartford has a solid median income 12.1% above the national median, as well as a cost of living index 13.3% above the national average. The problem is the unemployment rate, which is one of the worst in the country.

In terms of the job market, Hartford has more residents than expected in healthcare support occupations, building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations, and fire fighting and protective services.

7. Elizabeth, New Jersey

Elizabeth, New Jersey, with river in foreground.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.071
Cost of living index: 123.2
Cost of living estimate: $77,660
Median household income: $83,160
Median property value: $273,700
Population: 128,100 (20 million in New York-Newark-Jersey metro area)
Unemployment rate: 9.5%

With a cost of living index 23.2% more than the national average, Elizabeth is one of the more expensive cities on this list. A median income 21.0% above the national median helps residents shoulder those expenses, although there is also a high unemployment rate.

Both material moving and transportation jobs are more popular than average in Elizabeth. There are also many more residents working in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations compared to other places.

8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with park in foreground.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.057
Cost of living index: 111.9
Cost of living estimate: $70,537
Median household income: $74,533
Median property value: $167,700
Population: 1.58 million (6.1 million in Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metro area)
Unemployment rate: 9.3%

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The City of Brotherly Love has a median household income that’s 8.5% more than the national median, as well as a cost of living index that’s 11.9% more than the national average. Compared to the rest of the country, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate is above average.

Philadelphia has an unusually high number of residents who work in healthcare support occupations, legal occupations, and community and social service occupations.

9. Allentown, Pennsylvania

Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.054
Cost of living index: 106.6
Cost of living estimate: $67,196
Median household income: $70,793
Median property value: $126,700
Population: 120,400 (842,900 in Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area)
Unemployment rate: 9.9%

Allentown does a little better than the norm in terms of median income, where it beats the national median by 3.0%. Its cost of living index is 6.6% greater than the national average, while its unemployment rate is significantly worse than the national average.

Occupations with higher-than-expected participation in Allentown include material moving, healthcare support, and production.

10. Wilmington, Delaware

Wilmington, Delaware, from lake.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.033
Cost of living index: 114.5
Cost of living estimate: $72,176
Median household income: $75,533
Median property value: $169,400
Population: 70,900 (6.1 million in Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metro area)
Unemployment rate: 5.2%

Wilmington’s cost of living, at 14.5% higher than the national average, is around what you’d expect for this area of the country. A median household income 9.9% above the national median makes up for the cost, but just barely. Fortunately, unemployment in Wilmington is lower than many nearby areas.

Legal occupations are overrepresented in Wilmington, as are jobs in the life, physical, and social science field. Employment in fire fighting and prevention, as well as other protective services, are also higher than expected for the area.

Methodology

Each city’s cost of living index was taken from the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Q4 2020 cost of living index report. To determine the estimated cost of living in each city, we transformed the cost of living index into a percentage and multiplied it by the average annual expenditure of all consumer units from the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey.

We divided the median annual household income (sourced from the 2019 American Community Survey) to determine the estimated income-to-expenses ratio.

Sources

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