Over the past decade, the San Francisco Bay Area has become legendary for its skyrocketing cost of living. But new research from the Pew Research Center shows that even after you adjust for high housing costs the region has the country's best-compensated workers.
Obviously, the strong performance of San Jose and San Francisco represents the strong technology industries in those cities. This is likely to also be the story in Seattle, home of Microsoft and Amazon.
The high ranking of California, Maryland, is a bit of a mystery, but it may reflect low housing costs combined with a lot of highly paid research and development jobs linked to the nearby naval air station.
The Durham–Chapel Hill region benefits from a combination of low housing costs and the well-compensated jobs in the region's "research triangle" connected to Duke University and the University of North Carolina.
Houston and Midland are oil country, while Bridgeport's wealth (it's important to recall here that we're talking about metro areas; the small city of Bridgeport proper is poor) is fueled by the hedge fund industry.
One weakness of this data is that it's based on average instead of median wages. That could give a distorted picture in areas where a minority of highly paid engineers or investors are pulling the average upward — even as the average worker struggles to keep up with rising rents.
This data also underscores the urgency of expanding housing in high-cost areas like San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston. Many workers in these areas enjoy a higher-than-average standard of living despite the astronomical housing costs. And this means expanding housing in these areas will create economic opportunities for more people even if it fails to bring down housing costs. If building more housing also pushes down rents, which seems likely, that would be icing on the cake.