States Where Five Popular Careers Fare The Best

Job Pay Across the U.S.

A quick look at how five popular careers fare in pay and jobs across the U.S.

By Terence Loose

If you're thinking about pursuing a new career, you might first want to know where the jobs are and where the best pay is. After all, you don't want to chase a career right into the unemployment line.
For instance, it's probably no shock that California has the greatest number of nurses and pays them the most - it's a big state with a lot of hospitals. But did you know Hawaii pays their nurses second best? Now that's some aloha. Here's another interesting tidbit: While Texas has the most elementary school teachers, Alaska (with the third fewest teachers) pays them more.
The point is, a little research and planning can go a long way toward putting you on a smart career path. "It's definitely important to research a career before you pursue it," says Nancy Tetreaux, a communication and career coach with 20 years experience in human resources management. She adds that you should not only know if the career will make you happy, but also if you can make a living in a place you live or want to move to.
To give you a better sense of how job markets change from state to state, we researched five popular careers that are among the fastest-growing in the country, i.e., the U.S. Department of Labor projects they will add at least 90,000 jobs from 2010 to 2020. By combing through Department of Labor statistics further, we discovered which states employed the most in each profession, and also which states paid them the most.* Intrigued? Read on for other surprising facts about what these five careers look like on the U.S. map. 

Career #1: Accountant

Projected Job Growth 2010 to 2020: 16 percent, or 190,700 jobs
Projected Total Jobs by 2020: 1.4 million
Median Annual Salary: $63,550
Despite the stereotype, accountants aren't all about crunching numbers. According to Tetreaux, they also do a lot of analysis, advising, and are often a key part of the company for which they work. But if you are a numbers guy - or gal - the job numbers for the accounting field look pretty good.
Where the Jobs Are: California is king of the accountants, with nearly 134,000 of them in-state. Next comes New York (94,300) and Texas (91,390). But Florida and Pennsylvania also factor in the top states, boasting 74,000 and 54,000 accountants, respectively.
"Certainly, New York is not a surprise, since it's one of the financial capitals of the world, so that makes sense to me," says Tetreaux. "As for California, Los Angeles is the second [most populated] city in the country, and California has several industries that serve the world, such as the tech industry, Hollywood, and others."
Where the Money Is: The District of Columbia holds the top spot for pay, with that state's average salary for accountants coming in at $87,370. Next is New York, at $85,140 and New Jersey, at $81,470. Wondering where King California sits? Its accountants are in fifth, with an average annual wage of $75,870.
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How to Prep for a Career in Accounting: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most accountant positions require at least a bachelor's in accounting or a related field. Certification in a certain field of accounting also may improve job prospects, says the Department of Labor.

Career #2: Elementary School Teacher

Projected Job Growth 2010 to 2020: 17 percent, or 248,800 jobs
Projected Total Jobs by 2020: 1.7 million
Median Annual Salary: $53,400
Do you think you have what it takes to mentor the next generation? Or maybe you just love kids, and the idea of helping them learn and grow excites you. Well, you might want to brush up on your Alamo history lessons if you plan to chase down the state where the most teachers are.
Where the Jobs Are: Big old Texas rules the day here, with 150,440 employed elementary teachers. It's followed by California, with 132,560 teachers, and New York, with 82,580. Just behind, though, is Illinois (80,580), and finally Florida (69,310).
It's no surprise Texas, California, and New York are at the top of the leaderboard when it comes to the number of teachers, says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and writer of's Guide to Human Resources. "It's all about population and big cities," she says. More people mean more kids and providing an education is a legal requirement, she says.
Where the Money Is: Top cash honors go to elementary teachers in Rhode Island, where the average salary is $74,310. Next comes New York, whose teachers earn $71,270 on average and California, at $69,690. And believe it or not, Alaska is fourth on the list, with its mere 3,620 teachers pulling in an average salary of $67,110. Right behind Alaska is Connecticut ($67,070).
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How to Prep for a Career in Elementary Teaching: All states require public elementary school teachers to have a bachelor's in elementary education and a license, the U.S. Department of Labor says. Other requirements vary by state.

Career #3: Registered Nurse

Projected Job Growth 2010 to 2020: 26 percent, or 711,900 jobs
Projected Total Jobs by 2020: 3.4 million
Median Annual Salary: $65,470
What do you get when you combine an aging, yet more active population, an increased emphasis on preventive care, and more treatable medical conditions thanks to improved technology? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, you get a need for more nurses nationwide. A lot more.
Where the Jobs Are: One state shines above all the rest in this area. That's right, California, the land of sun and organic everything definitely wants to stay healthy, and it has the nearly 250,000 nurses to prove it. Following Cali's lead is Texas, with 187,290 nurses, and then New York, with 166,950. Next are Florida (164,000) and Pennsylvania (125,000).
The general population is aging thanks to the baby boomers who need more care, says Tetreaux. And as the nation goes, so will the states. "California, Texas, New York all have big populations and that's probably why they're on top. And Florida, as we know, has a large retired population, so that's also not a surprise," she says.
Where the Money Is: California pays its many nurses the best, too, reporting an average salary of $94,120 across the profession. But how does some aloha sound with your job? Hawaii is number two, reflecting an average salary of $84,750. Third is Massachusetts, at $83,370. The states that follow, Alaska and Oregon, both report average earnings for nurses above $77,000.
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How to Prep for a Career in Nursing: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are three common paths to pursue the job of registered nurse (RN): an associate's degree in nursing, a bachelor's degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. RNs also must be licensed.

Career #4: Human Resources Specialist

Projected Job Growth 2010 to 2020: 21 percent, or 90,700 jobs
Projected Total Jobs by 2020: 532,900
Median Annual Salary: $55,800
Whether small, medium, or large, a company's most important resource is likely the humans that work there, which makes managing and fostering that resource so vital to success. And with the economy improving, says Tetreaux, human resources specialists might find themselves in even more demand.
Where the Jobs Are: Again, the states with the most human resources specialists are California, with 43,100, Texas, with 33,620, and New York, with 25,900. But Florida and Pennsylvania crop up again with impressive numbers (15,000 to 22,000).
Tetreaux says that big, global companies often have centralized human resources departments. "So even though a company is national or international, they may have their HR department centralized in one office, and that's often the big cities, like New York, Austin, or Los Angeles," she says. And what about Florida? According to Tetreaux, not only is Florida's population booming, but it has one of the fastest-growing economies in the country.
Where the Money Is: Interestingly, the big three - California, Texas, and New York - come in at number five, six, and 14 in the pay department, ranging from $60,000 to $67,000. The winners here are the District of Columbia, at $88,660, Connecticut, at $71,050, and Virginia, at $68,670.
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How to Prep for a Career in Human Resources: A bachelor's degree is required for most human resources specialist positions, according to the U.S. Department of Labor; however, the requirements vary depending on the position and employer. Employers prefer candidates with a degree in human resources, business, or a related field, adds the Department.

Career #5: Software Developer (Systems Software)

Projected Job Growth 2010 to 2020: 32 percent, or 127,200 jobs
Projected Total Jobs by 2020: 519,400
Median Annual Salary: $99,000
If you thought that in our high-tech world you could parachute down anywhere in the country and land a software developer job if you have the credentials, well, you'd probably be right. But there are some places that this hot and growing career does better than others.
Where the Jobs Are: California blows the other states away here, with 80,130 systems software developers. The next best is Texas, with 32,660, then Virginia, with 30,680. Following them are Massachusetts and New York, ranging from 29,000 to 18,000.
Although California (thanks to Silicon Valley) and Texas (thanks to Silicon Prairie in Dallas) are well-known as high-tech states, Megan McCann, president and founder of IT recruiter McCann Partners, says Illinois (in sixth place according to the Department of Labor) is also coming on strong.
"Chicago has become a hot spot within the technology community and is gaining prominence as a national leader in the start-up space," she says. "It's said a new start-up is formed every 48 hours and this momentum is driving the demand for technical talent such as software developers."
Where the Money Is: California pays its many systems software developers the most, with their annual average wages at $115,440. Next is Virginia, at $113,020, and New Jersey, at $110,860. In fact, there are 11 states with average salaries over $100,000 for these workers, but Texas (second in number of jobs) is not among them. It sits at the 12 spot, with an average salary of $99,420.
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How to Prep for a Career in Software Development: Software developers usually have a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field, but math degrees are also acceptable, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Computer science degrees are the most common, however. Developers must also have strong computer programming skills, says the Department of Labor.

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