Where the Creative Class Earns the Most

Workers do well on the east and west coasts.

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The economic crisis has hit all workers hard. But the creative class — which includes professionals in the fields of science and technology, design and architecture, arts, entertainment and media, and healthcare, law, management and education — has fared better than most.

Unemployment for this group never grew much higher than 5 percent, while the national rate surged to more than double that and triple for blue collar workers. 

But the pay levels of members of the creative class varies substantially by geography. Creative class members in the highest paying metros earn more than six figures, while those in the lowest paying metros make roughly $40,000.

Where do creative class workers get paid the most?

The map above shows the average salary and wages for all the metros across the United States. It is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled by my colleague Kevin Stolarick of the Martin Prosperity Institute. The slideshow below lists the top 20. 

Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley's San Jose, with its high concentration of entrepreneurs and ongoing "talent wars," offers the highest wages and salaries. The Bay Area also pays well: second place San Francisco offers an average wage of $91,361. Nearby Napa is fifth, at $87,765. Overall, California has eight of the top 20 metros, with Los Angeles ninth ($80,859), San Diego tenth ($80,036), Oxnard-Thousand Oaks (twelfth with an average salary of $78,481) Santa Barbara (fourteenth with $78,173 average wage), and Salinas 17th with average wages of $77,086.

The East Coast, especially the Boston-Washington corridor, is also well-represented. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut, is third ($90,713) and the greater Washington, D.C., metro is fourth ($90,442). The greater New York area is seventh ($87,625). Boston is eighth ($80,859), Hartford is 15th ($77,187), New Haven is 18th ($76,826), and Philadelphia is 19th ($76,694). Trenton-Ewing is ninth at $80,816 for an average wage.

Seattle, Boulder, Santa Barbara, Durham, (in the North Carolina Research Triangle), and Anchorage compete the top 20. 

In a fascinating 2011 study, the economist Todd Gabe identified the key factors behind this creative class wage premium. He found it is less the result of working around people or firms in the same industry and more about interacting with other creative workers who reside in the same region. Creative class wages are also higher in larger cities and metros that offer more diversity across different kinds of creative work.

Photo credit: Dmitriy Shironosov /Shutterstock

This post is an abridged and revised excerpt of material from The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, out this month from Basic Books.

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here