Houston commands top median STEM wage at $99k when adjusted

san francisco skyline
San Francisco has all the allure for young STEM grads but also ranks 99th in median STEM wages when adjusted for its high cost of living. Houston ranks first. (Pixabay)

The top U.S. metro area for STEM workers is Seattle based on 21 different criteria, but Houston comes in with the highest annual median wage at nearly $99,000 when adjusted for cost of living.

The data comes from a new WalletHub study of the nation’s 100 biggest metro areas. It turns out that San Jose has the highest average monthly earnings for new employees in STEM industries at $11,798, which is $141,576 annually.

San Jose also has the highest share of all workers in STEM jobs at 21%.

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The complete WalletHub full report is online. While the top 10 list might not be surprising, it is worth a look for how certain cities received their rankings. Seattle at number 1 scored 71.78 on 21 different criteria, including a top ranking for “professional opportunities.” But Seattle also was ranked 8th on STEM friendliness and 19th on the Quality of Life ranking.

Boston, at number 2 overall, finished number 1 on STEM friendliness, but just 64th on Quality of Life.

San Francisco ranked sixth overall and finished in third position for both professional opportunities and STEM friendliness but was 63d for Quality of Life. Ironically, the San Francisco metro area ranked near the bottom (99th) in annual median wage for STEM workers when adjusted for cost of living at $58,100. That was somewhat better than Honolulu, ranked the lowest at $42,293.

The findings support a widespread impression of how the largest tech metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Boston are ranked down on Quality of Life for worries about high housing costs and traffic congestion.

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WalletHub divided up the 21 criteria for its rankings into three main areas. The first was “professional opportunities,” which includes job openings for STEM grads, the unemployment rate for adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, annual median wage for STEM workers, share of the workforce in STEM and STEM employment growth.

The second area was “STEM-friendliness,” which considered the importance of things like how education in the metro area supports STEM. These criteria included math performance by fourth and eighth graders on standardized tests, number and quality of top engineering schools, R&D spending, invention patents and disparity of women versus men in STEM occupations.

The third area was “quality of life” which included housing affordability that was calculated on the annual median gross rent divided by the annual median wage for STEM workers. Other considerations were recreation friendliness, family friendliness and singles friendliness.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professions are expected to grow 8.8% until 2028, ahead of 5% for all other occupations, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis. That same analysis put STEM occupations at a median annual wage of $84,880 in 2018, far ahead of non-STEM occupations at $37,020.

In the overall STEM group, software developers can expect the most job growth (241,500 new jobs between 2018 and 2028), with computer and info systems managers enjoying the highest median wage at $142,530.

WalletHub also asked a series of experts about STEM occupations, including why the majority of STEM graduates don’t ultimately work in a STEM job. Xiufeng Liu, professor of science education at the University of Buffalo, said part of the reason is how STEM is defined. “STEM is a very broad term [that includes] the interaction with other social and humanities disciplines…Given the comprehensiveness of STEM and STEM education, STEM graduates are usually more versatile and adaptable than non-STEM graduates,” he said. “Almost all occupations including health, manufacturing and service are multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary; all involve STEM; thus STEM graduates have more employment opportunities than non-STEM graduates."

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