Geography and nursing salaries: Should you move?

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Whether we believe “money makes the world go around” or “money is the root of all evil,” we all have to be realistic that money is what we need to live.

As important as money is to our survival, many of us are reluctant to talk about how much we earn. But don’t be left in the dark!

Here you’ll find a rundown of nurse salaries for LVNs/LPNs and Registered Nurses. You might be surprised which cities compensate the best.

As with most professions, a nurse’s salary can depend on a number of variables, including:

  • Education level
  • Experience
  • Facility
  • Specialization
  • Geographical location

Nurses in some parts of the United States make substantially more—or less—than in other parts. When nurses in the lower-income states see the high salaries, it’s not unusual for them to be shocked or envious that their peers may command such high salaries. There is one thing that’s very important to keep in mind, though. Before packing up to move to a higher-paying state, you must take into account the cost of living of your destination.

A high salary may not give a nurse more disposable income than a nurse who gets a lower income elsewhere if the higher-salary nurse lives in an area where rent and home prices, and the necessities of life, are three times that of the lower-salary nurse. So, if you’re looking to move, don’t let the lower salaries discourage you from some places or higher salaries blind you!


LPNs and LVNs are at the starting point of nursing salaries. According to the United States Bureau of Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for LPNs/LVNs in 2008 was $39,030. However, some made less than $28,260 per year. On the flip side, some also made more than $53,580. has broken this down according to some of the bigger U.S. cities:

·      Birmingham, Alabama: $30,536 to $39,333

·      Richmond, Virginia: $33,776 to $41,705

·      New York, New York: $36,289 to $45,805

·      Chicago, Illinois: $36,107 to $50,272

Of course, salaries tend to go down as you move away from the big cities to smaller towns and rural areas.

Registered Nurses

Nurses who graduate with a diploma won’t be in the upper echelons of salaries; those are reserved for nurses with more advanced degrees. That being said, RNs can be paid quite well, depending on the area. The BLS reports that as of May 2008, the median salary of RNs overall was $62,450, with some making less than $43,410 and some more than $92,240. provides hourly rates for RNs in some of the larger U.S. cities:

·      St. Louis, Missouri: $20.44 to $27.57

·      Chicago, Illinois: $24.81 to 32.44

·      Phoenix, Arizona: $25.42 to $33.91

·      Los Angeles, California: $27.57 to $37.47

Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners enjoy a higher salary throughout the country. reports these cities:

·      Orlando, Florida: $65,783 to $78,823

·      Louisville, Kentucky: $68,654 to $82,849

·      Kansas City, Missouri: $73,711 to $83,173

·      New York, New York: $85,989 to $107,566

Cost of Living

The cost of living in a particular area is calculated by a combination of cost of accommodation and cost of everyday expenses, such as groceries and fuel. In a survey done in 2009 of cities across the world, New York City was ranked as the eighth most expensive city in the world, well above other American cities:

Los Angeles, California: ranked #23

White Plains, New York: ranked #31

San Francisco, California: ranked #34

Honolulu, Hawaii: ranked #41

Miami, Florida: ranked #45

Chicago, Illinois: ranked #50

So, how does your salary compare? Do you feel you make enough for your area’s cost of living?

Sources for this article:

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