The Best-paying States for Nurses in 2021

Over 2.9 million nurses work in the United States, and they make an average salary of $77,460 per year.1 But some states pay better than others. And living expenses don’t always line up with income.

To help our health-care heroes find a new spot to live, we found the best states for nursing salaries. Using this list, our health-care heroes can get a better idea of where they may want to move (or start) their nursing careers.

In each state, we compared the average nursing salary to the average income to find the percentage difference. We then calculated how many hours nurses must work to afford rent.

Nurse Salary US Map

In which states do nurses earn the most?

Nationally, nurses make 45% more than the average salary for all other occupations. And in 15 states, nurses make more than the national average. 

Hawaii tops our list, with nurses making 89% more than other occupations for a total salary of $104,060. Washington DC ranks last on our list. Nurses in DC make only 5.6% more than the average salary for all other occupations.

California boasts the highest wage per hour for nurses, at $54.44. South Dakota has the lowest wage per hour for nurses at $28.63—which is nearly half what they make in California.

COVID-19 Considerations

After the pandemic hit, nursing became a lot more demanding—and dangerous.

According to the CDC, health-care providers make up 6% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and 36% of those hospitalizations were nurses.2 With 288,000+ health-care provider hospitalizations and nearly 1,000 deaths,3 this figure likely will grow as more data becomes available and pandemic continues with no clear end in sight.

However, many are hopeful that the vaccines now being dispersed through the US will slow the virus’s spread and provide relief to the overburdened health care system. The CDC is recommending health-care workers take priority for vaccinations since they are at high risk of exposure.4

In which states do nurses have to work the longest to afford their rent?

Nationally, nurses work an average of 29.5 hours to be able to afford a month’s rent. The national average income requires 42.7 hours of work to afford rent. That means nursing requires 13.2 hours less of work than the average occupation to afford rent every month.

In Florida, nurses must work 38 hours to afford the median monthly rent, while Maryland and Colorado nurses are a close second–they must work 37 hours to afford their rent.

In West Virginia, nurses only have to work 23 hours to afford the median monthly rent. All other occupations in the Mountain State work an average of 35 hours to afford monthly rent.

While nurses get paid more than other occupations on average, it’s hard work with long hours and a lot of frustration. Do you think nurses get paid enough? Share this article on social media to keep the discussion going. 

State-by-state analysis of nurse earnings

Average salary for nurses
Average salary for all occupations
Percent more that nurses earn compared to all other occupations
Hours worked to afford median rent for nurses
5New Mexico $73,300$47,04055.8%24
14South Carolina$64,840$44,38046.1%29.6
15West Virginia$63,220$43,42045.6%23.9
16Kentucky $63,750$44,02044.8%25.2
19Rhode Island$82,310$57,22043.8%26.4
26New Jersey $84,280$59,98040.5%34
27Georgia $69,590$49,62040.2%31.4
29Washington $86,176$62,02038.9%32.8
30South Dakota$59,540$42,92038.7%26.9
36New York $87,840$63,97037.3%31
38New Hampshire$73,880$53,95036.9%32.3
39North Carolina $66,440$48,55036.8%29.1
44Connecticut $83,440$62,35033.8%29.3
47North Dakota$66,290$50,43031.4%25.2
51District of Columbia $94,820$89,8005.6%35.2


Using the newest BLS data from May 2019, we ranked each state based on the percent difference between the average salary of all occupations and the average salary of a registered nurse. A rank of 1 indicates the state where the nursing salary compared to all occupations’  ratio is highest.

With data from the US Census Bureau, we used the median rent and compared it to each state’s salary to find the number of hours nurses must work to afford rent.


  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment Statistics,” Accessed December 23, 2020.
  2. CDC, “COVID-19–Associated Hospitalizations among Health Care Personnel,” Accessed December 23, 2020.
  3. CDC, “COVID Data Tracker: Cases & Deaths among Healthcare Personnel,” Accessed December 23, 2020.
  4. CDC, “The Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination for Healthcare Personnel,” Accessed December 23, 2020.
  5. US Census Bureau, “Median Rent for Renter-Occupied Housing Units Paying Cash Rent,” Accessed December 23, 2020.
Trevor Wheelwright
Written by
Trevor Wheelwright
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