Nurse Salaries Are Up 75% — and These States Pay the Best

Consider moving to these places if you're a registered nurse.

Every year, National Nurses Week kicks off on May 6 — National Nurses Day. The week, which celebrates the nation’s 4 million registered nurses, ends on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale. The founder of modern nursing, Nightingale aided British and Allied soldiers during the Crimean War. She also established the very first scientifically based nursing school, which opened in 1860.

National Nurses Week is the perfect way to celebrate these unsung heroes. GOBankingRates determined the average salaries of registered nurses from 1998 to 2018 with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ occupational employment statistics and found the places where nurses are paid the most and least. Currently, the average annual wage for registered nurses is $75,510 — a far cry from the $43,070 average wage in 1998. Data also shows that nursing salaries have increased by 75% in the last 20 years.

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Nurses Salaries Throughout the Years

The average annual wage for registered nurses jumped 18.9% between 1998 and 2003, and then again by about 27% from 2003 to 2008. Unfortunately, this steady increase has slowed in recent years, with only a 9.6% salary bump from 2013 to 2018.

The reason that nurses’ pay is stagnant remains unclear. This is interesting, considering the current RN shortage in the United States. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported a 3.7% enrollment increase in entry-level nursing programs in 2018. However, this does not meet the projected demand for nursing services. Many registered nurses in today’s workforce are also nearing retirement age, with many ages 50 or older.

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States With the Highest- (and Lowest-) Paid Nurses

Compensation plays a large role in ultimately deciding where to reside as a registered nurse. Some states offer job opportunities that may pay much higher (or lower) wages than the national average. Check out the states with the highest- and lowest-paid nurses.

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The Top 5 States for Nurses

A majority of the best states for nurses are located in the West:

The Highest-Paying States for Nurses
StateAnnual Mean Wage
California$106,950
Hawaii$98,080
Massachusetts$92,140
Oregon$91,080
Alaska$89,310

Perhaps not surprisingly, California is No. 1 in states with the highest-paid nurses, with an annual mean wage of $106,950. The other states in the West joining Hawaii, Oregon and Alaska in the top 10 are Nevada ($85,620) and Washington ($82,670).

The Bottom 5 States for Nurses

The bottom five states are nowhere near the mean wage for California:

The Lowest-Paying States for Nurses
StateAnnual Mean Wage
South Dakota$58,340
Mississippi$58,490
Iowa$59,130
 Alabama$59,470
Arkansas$60,780

While South Dakota is the state with the lowest average nurse salary, the South hosts a majority of the states in the bottom five. Tennessee ($61,320), West Virginia ($61,780) and Kentucky ($63,100) are also among the 10 worst-paying states. Pay is likely one of the reasons for RN shortages across the country, with these states in the lowest tier for annual wages.

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The Best Cities for Nurses

Of the top 100 metropolitan areas in the U.S. by population, many areas with the highest cost of living also have some of the highest average RN salaries.

California dominated the top locations for nurses, with seven of the top 10 spots going to metro areas within the Golden State. 

The Honolulu, Portland and Boston areas were also given top spots. Honolulu only has 9,150 total registered nurses within its metro area, which is probably the reason for the high mean annual wage in the city.

Florida did not even make an appearance in the top 30, which is surprising, considering the number of retirees and senior living facilities located across the state. Offering higher compensation — the state’s average annual wage is $66,210 — would perhaps influence more nurses to come to Florida.

Check out the best cities for nurses across the country:

Cities With the Highest-Paid Nurses

Metropolitan Statistical AreaMean Annual Wage
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.$128,990
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.$128,610
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, Calif.$120,530
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.$101,830
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif.$99,930
Urban Honolulu, Hawaii$99,600
San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif.$98,440
Fresno, Calif.$96,900
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, Mass.-N.H.$95,270
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.-Wash.$93,570

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Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the average salaries of registered nurses from 1998 to 2018 by sourcing data from Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics for each year from 1998 to 2018, the most recent year of available data. Average salaries for nurses by state and metropolitan area were also sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

GOBankingRates also analyzed the top 100 metropolitan areas in the United States by population to find the 30 cities with the highest-paid nurses. GOBankingRates took the May 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics and filtered for “Registered Nurses.” The final ranking was decided by ranking the mean annual wage for each metropolitan area from highest to lowest.