In 2015, There is no “Right Place” to Live for the Best Jobs


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So now I’ve linked to my friend Hannah’s blog two times, and yet I still have more interesting stuff to touch on from it. Even after this piece, I have one more subject to comment on after it. Tonight though I want to touch on the second piece from her blog I didn’t agree with, which is that the best jobs are clustered in the most expensive markets.

She writes:

Expensive cities are generally expensive because they have bigger, better employers. And that’s unfair, but it’s just how life is. Thedemographic “center” of the United States has consistently moved south and west as the population has grown. Conventional wisdom suggests that in modern times sunbelt states like Florida and Texas are where the population growth is, thus, they must have an abundance of high wage jobs.

The problem with this conventional wisdom is that it’s wrong. People flock to those places primarily because they offer a low cost of living, not because they offer great odds of professional success. There’s nothing wrong with that for many people, but it is a choice that must be made for people who aspire to work in certain niche professional industries. Recognize that many places with cheap real estate are cheap primarily because they are not near many of the most lucrative job opportunities. A condo in Phoenix probably has a pool, but it won’t have all 5 major employers in a given industry nearby. It might have zero or only one of them, and the odds are very good that it won’t be the most high paying and prestigious jobs at the company. A lot of California technology start-ups move their sales or administrative jobs to Phoenix or Scottsdale once they begin to scale up, but unfortunately it’s rare for them to hire the much higher-paid engineering roles and similar functions from that market. Yet, those same developer jobs are a dime a dozen in bigger markets like New York, San Francisco, or DC. It’s an employee’s market in those cities. They cannot find enough competent warm bodies to fill all of the jobs. It’s totally unfair that pursuing a professional career generally requires living in one of the biggest and most expensive cities, but unfortunately it’s the truth. Your mom loves you, but she is probably not being realistic when she says you can make it in your field of choice from Omaha or Tallahassee.

It’s odd that I, who wants to “retire” in New York City and not Florida, would argue against this point, and to be clear, I’m not entirely. Not all of the best jobs are located in New York, Washington, and San Francisco obviously. Cities tend to have different “niches” they occupy. LA does the movie industry. Orlando has Disney. Philadelphia has Comcast. New York is the financial capitol, while Washington is still the spot for government and government related jobs. Seattle has Comcast. If you did want to live in, say, Omaha, that would be a smart idea if you wanted to be in big agriculture. If you want to go into the oil industry, Dallas and Houston might make sense, while music might lead you to Nashville.

Even so, I do agree with her main point- if you want to make good money and have a good, corporate career, then New York, Chicago, DC, LA, San Francisco, and a select few other cities are probably the right place to be, and it will cost you a lot to live there. Part of those costs are the access to good jobs, but plenty of people live in New York for totally different reasons (like access to a lifestyle or entertainment, and other reasons). If you want your best opportunity to make six figures faster though, she’s right, move to New York City or the San Francisco Bay. It’s there.

The thing is, I don’t think corporate jobs are all that good. Job security is minimal, and your share of the company’s “spoils” from their success is rather miniscule. We live in 2015, and my primary complaint with her point is two fold- brick and mortar “locations” for a company are going by the wayside, and frankly you can be an entrepreneur from anywhere, and that’s a helluva lot more secure any more than mid-level and even upper level management. Increasingly, we live in the world of the virtual office, and that is ending the idea that you really have to live anywhere to get a good job.

I caution you though, if you are a middle-class kid graduating from college and fairly smart, I would probably tell you to move to New York City and work tomorrow. The competition for what I’m calling a “good” job is still super high, and not all hires are made on merit, so you’re taking a chance going back to Podunk after college. If you’re approaching 30 though, or even past it, and you want to do well, I’d probably tell you to not worry so much about “access” to jobs, because you’re hopefully a pretty competitive applicant for the good stuff by then, or you’re hopefully at the point where you can go it alone. Either way, I don’t recommend paying the super high rents for long.

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