Highest Paying States for RNs in 2021
The demand for educated nurses continues to grow — nursing is enjoying a 15% career growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), much faster than many other professions. In fact, according to 2006 statistics, nursing is actually the largest healthcare profession in the United States, with over 3 million nurses currently in the workforce, and growing every day.
As the demand for nurses continues to grow, so does the opportunity for you to choose where you want to work. With so many choices available to you as a registered nurse, you might wonder what the highest paying states for registered nurses are. Whether you’re looking to work as a staff nurse or travel nurse, here are the highest paying states for RNs in 2021.
Highest Paying States for Registered Nurses for 2021
|State||Avg. RN Salary||Avg. Hourly Rate||# of RNs|
|District of Columbia||$94,820||$45.59||10,890|
Nursing Shortages Across the Country
If you think of nursing like a business product, it’s easy to see why states that are in higher need of nurses might also pay their nurses more money. Supply and demand, right?
Overall, the BLS has predicted that the U.S. will need 203,700 new RNs each year through 2026 to keep up with the demand for nurses.
The demand for nurses across the country is already great — and it’s going to increase by an unprecedented amount in the next decade. The American Association of College of Nurses cites statistics that explain that by 2030, as a large majority of the current nursing workforce retires, a wide shortage of nurses is expected. That shortage is supposed to be worse in the Southern and Western states especially.
A 2017 report by the Department of Health and Human Services found that if the current level of healthcare in the country stays the same, there are four states in particular that will be facing a dire nurse shortage by the year 2030 (the number is equivalent to full-time nurses):
- California | 44,500 nurses
- Texas | 15,900 nurses
- New Jersey | 11,400 nurses
- South Carolina | 10,400 nurses
Although overall, there is a high need for more nurses across the country, there are a handful of states that are actually projected to have an oversupply of nurses as compared to demand. For instance, the report found that Florida will have 53,700 too many nurses, trailed by an oversupply of 49,100 in Ohio, 22,700 in Virginia, and 18,200 full-time nurses in New York.
Don’t Forget About Cost of Living
You may think that the states that have the highest need for nurses also pay the highest amount to nurses, but you have to consider the cost of living in those areas. For instance, as of 2021, the highest-paying state for RNs is California, with an average salary of $113,240 — an amount that will likely only rise as the demand for nurses increases too.
While California may need a large number of nurses and offer a higher-than-average salary for full-time nurses, California state residents also have a higher-than-average cost of living. Although at first glance, California seems like it would be the most profitable for an RN, you may make even more money when you factor in the cost of living by choosing a state that has a low cost of living and a high demand for nurses, such as South Carolina, which is the 9th lowest cost of living state in the country, according to a report by USA Today. Thus, when choosing a travel nursing assignment or even a resident nursing assignment, it makes sense to consider both your wages and expenses required when determining what your ultimate take-home pay will be.
Why Travel Nurses Make More Money
Although it’s not great news for the country as a whole that we will soon be facing a nursing shortage (especially as our population ages and chronic conditions increase), the demand for more educated nurses means that, as an RN, you have the opportunity for more work flexibility and higher salaries.
For example, you could move to a state that will be experiencing a nursing shortage, or you could take an assignment as a travel nurse. Overall, travel nurses tend to make more money than staff nurses based on the nature of their work in areas that are high in need, and the fact that they receive monetary incentives such as non-taxable housing, meals, travel, and living stipends that boost their pay.
Not only will working as a travel nurse in a high-demand area drive up your pay, but working in a high-demand specialty can also increase the amount of money you can make as a travel nurse. For instance, traveling nurses who work in the following in-demand specialties tend to make more money than other areas:
- Critical care
- Labor and delivery
It’s especially helpful if you can achieve your own certification in a specialty area prior to signing with a travel nurse staffing agency, so you can let the nursing recruiter know of your availability and credentials in that area; that way they can seek out an area that is specifically searching for travel nurses in your specialty field, which generally equals a higher pay for you.
You can also boost your salary as a travel nurse by strategically planning your travel nursing assignments geographically by season. For example, states like Alaska, Vermont, and Maine have a higher need for nurses during the winter (wonder why, right?), while states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas need nurses more during the summer — so, in theory, you could accept a travel nursing assignment in Alabama for the summer, then move on to Vermont for the winter to maximize your take-home pay.
Choosing the Best State for Nursing Pay
Overall, the highest paying states for travel nurses really depends on a variety of factors, including what specialty you will be working as a travel nurse, what additional incentives you will receive from the nursing agency in addition to your base pay, the time of year you will be working, and perhaps most importantly, the cost of living in your work area as compared to your total pay package. Your best strategy to maximize your pay would be to choose one of the highest-paying states for travel nurses that also offers a low cost of living, so you can balance your pay with your expenses.