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Where Registered Nurses Make the Most Money

Nurse Compensation

Maybe your grandma was right. The key to happiness is to follow your heart. Then again, Grandma probably didn’t have the kind of student loan debt you do. Maybe you should follow your heart in a state where nurses make the most money.

How much money do nurses make?

The answer is – it depends. The best-paid 10 percent of RNs in the United States made more than $96,320 in 2013 while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $45,630. (Link:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for nurses in the United States is $33.13 an hour. However, the difference between what you make in a small town in the South compared to what a peer in Los Angeles makes might just take your breath away. That hospital just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean might pay $25 more an hour. That’s an extra $52,000 a year.

Top 5 States                                      Mean Hourly Rate                           Mean Annual Salary

California                                                           $46.62                                                   $96,980

Hawaii                                                                $41.05                                                   $85,380

Massachusetts                                                  $40.25                                                   $83,720

Alaska                                                                 $40.21                                                   $83,640

Oregon                                                                $38.67                                                   $80,440

On the other end of the pay scale, the South is home to the some of the lowest paying states. Alabama, for example, boasts a mean average hourly rate of just $26.13. Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas share similar numbers. In general, the closer you are to a coast, or a large, metropolitan area, the higher the salary.  Nurses in Kansas make a lot less than nurses in San Francisco.

Where do I apply?

Before you pack your bags for greener pastures, keep in mind that for most of those cities with higher salaries, the cost of living in these cities also takes more out of your pocket.  For example, a nurse in Montgomery, Alabama might only be making $23 an hour, but the cost of living in the area is relatively low. The cost of living index is the standard for understanding how expensive an area is to live.  An index of 100 is considered to be the national average. Montgomery, Alabama has a cost of living index of 88.

In comparison, that same nurse in Los Angeles (with a mean hourly rate of $44.34) needs to make at least twice as much money for the same standard of living. Los Angeles is 84% more expensive than Montgomery, with housing costing 300% more! The cost of living index in Los Angeles is 163.  Wanna get even more tropical? Honolulu nurses make $44 an hour on average, but the cost of living index in Honolulu is 199. Housing costs there are five times what they are in a city like Montgomery.

Before you decide to make a move, do your research.  Consider these five factors that go beyond the paycheck:

  1. Culture – what do you like to do? Do you need to commune with nature on a regular basis to stay sane? Or do you love concerts, sporting events, the theater and poetry readings at funky coffeeshops?
  2. Family and friends – how often do you want to see the people who are most important to you? How far are you willing to drive to see them?
  3. Climate – it may sound insignificant, but if you hate snow, then don’t move to a place where you will be miserable five months a year.
  4. Commute time – do you enjoy driving? Taking public transportation? How much time are you willing to waste getting to and from work?
  5. Crime rates – no place is perfect, but choose a place where you feel safe to work, live and play.

Ready to begin your job search?

Search RN jobs from employers around the country to find the job that is right for you.


Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Cost of Living Index:








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About Angie Best-Boss RN

Angie Best-Boss, ASN, BA, MDiv is a psychiatric nurse and freelance writer from the Indianapolis, Indiana area. Angie has three daughters and can usually be found with her nose in a book, crafting or, in warm weather, geocaching.