Austin is the hottest job market in the United States, according to a new ranking by The Wall Street Journal. It won the top spot for the second year in a row -- but every other city in the top five is a newcomer. Meantime, the cities that held slots two through five last year have all tumbled further down the list.
How does the Journal pick the hottest job markets? It combines a metro area's unemployment rate, labor-force participation rate (that is, how much of the overall population between 18 and 64 is either working or seeking a job), job growth, labor-force growth, and wage growth. It then ranks metro areas in two separate lists, those with more than one million residents, and those with fewer than one million.
You can find the full list here. Here's a look at the new top five, and at the four cities that are no longer as hot as they were in 2019.
Inc. and everyone else has been reporting on Austin's ascendance as a tech and entrepreneurial hub for a while now. So it's no surprise to find it at the top of this list. SXSW, mild winters, a youthful population, and a vibrant music scene all make Austin attractive to entrepreneurs and technology workers alike. The 5 percent wage growth, third highest in the nation, makes it especially appealing for those looking for a job. Now Apple is tripling its workforce there, building a $1 billion campus to hold 15,000 employees, which is pretty much guaranteed to push wages even higher.
Nashville climbed into the number two slot from number seven last year, largely because of its 2.6 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in the nation. At 3.2 percent, its labor force growth is the nation's second highest -- possibly reflecting an influx of people looking to fill all those jobs. Here again, a mild climate and Nashville's status as a music epicenter could be a big draw.
Denver was ninth on the list last year, but it's climbed to number three on the strength of its labor force participation -- at 70.7 percent, the highest in the country. It also ranks fourth in wage growth, at 4.8 percent. Hikers, skiers, and other nature lovers feel right at home here. Incidentally, in the Journal's ranking of hot job markets with a population of one million or fewer, nearby Boulder nabbed the top spot.
The Seattle metro area benefits from employment at tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Expedia, as well as Boeing, the region's largest employer. So it's not surprising that its wage growth, at 5.4 percent, is the country's second highest, and its 2.8 percent job growth rate is pretty impressive as well. It was number eight on the list last year.
5. San Francisco
Most people would probably agree that San Francisco is a hot job market, but last year it ranked 13th in the Journal's list. Its higher ranking this year is entirely due to its impressive wage growth of 7.1 percent, which is the nation's highest. On the other hand, housing and other living expenses have skyrocketed in this city, so even those with much higher salaries than before aren't necessarily any better off.
Here are the metro areas that fell out of the top five in 2020.
1. San Jose/Silicon Valley
All those people saying Silicon Valley is basically over? Well, they could be right. What you might call the Silicon Valley metro area (San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara) held the number two slot in 2019, but it's in 10th place now. At 2.6 percent, its unemployment is still impressively low, the second lowest in the nation. But its wage growth is a disappointing 2.7 percent, and its workforce growth is a dismal 1.5 percent. No wonder some founders are taking their startups elsewhere.
2. Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City fell from number three on this list to number six, narrowly missing the top five. One explanation is that its labor force growth is only 1.2 percent, suggesting that people aren't as eager as they might be to move there. And its job growth is only 2.2 percent. It's hard to say whether job growth has slowed because fewer people are moving to town to take those new jobs, or whether fewer people are moving to SLC because of the slower job growth. Either way, with an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent and a wage growth rate of 4.5 percent, this is still very much a hot job market. It's just a little bit less hot than it was a year ago.
The Boston metro area held fourth place last year but it's fallen to 12th place this year. Like Salt Lake City, Boston likely lost ranking because of an abysmal workforce growth rate of 1.1 percent, matched by an even lower job growth rate of 1 percent. And Boston's wage growth rate is 3.9 percent, lower than some of the other hot job markets.
The Orlando metro area fell from fifth place last year to eighth place this year. The drop is probably due to a 3.1 percent unemployment rate and a 3.1 percent wage growth rate that puts it behind 25 other cities on the list. On the other hand, the city's job growth rate is the largest in the country at 3.5 percent. It seems likely that rapid job growth will force wages upward, which could put Orlando back among the top five next year.