These Maps Reveal the Salary Gaps Between Every State

February 7th 2016

Aron Macarow

If you’re looking at student loans and trying to make sense of the best career to pay them off, it's logical to want to spring for a gig in computers or tech. And for good reason: A new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields offer the best chances at high starting salaries for 2016, with engineers expected to make $64,891 upon graduation and computer science fields not far behind at $61,321.

When it comes to choosing a career, we’re told to follow our hearts, though it seems like our bank accounts would fare better off if our hearts choose certain fields.

But as it turns out, career choice isn't the whole story. In addition to what you're doing nine-to-five, there are a few other factors that can play a significant role in determining your starting salary.

Where you live matters.

If you’re a Millennial, your median income can vary widely depending on what state you live in — by as much as $20,000 according to a recent Business Insider map. Montana comes in at the bottom, with Millennials earning a median wage of $18,000, while Washington, D.C. rounds out the top at $43,000.

As it turns out, starting salary is often similarly affected by your state of residence.

For example, entry-level pay for teachers differs by $21,357 per year based on location. Just like with overall Millennial wages, Montana is once again at the low end of the spectrum: teachers there take home $27,274 per year. On the opposite end are New Jersey and Washington, D.C., where teachers earn $48,631 and $45,000, respectively.

Map of median starting salaries for teachers across the U.S.

Compensation for new state troopers upon graduation from their state academy is another field that sees the impact of location and the difference can be almost $41,000 per year, depending on whether you’re located in California ($74,700 per year) or Florida ($33,977 per year). Some might point out that Florida highway patrol make more money in more expensive metro areas, like Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, but that only pulls them up to around $38,000 annually — still almost $37,000 below California entry-level troopers, who make the most in the nation. But even the difference between a state near the middle of the pay spectrum like Nevada ($47,606 per year), and a state near the top — say, New Jersey, which pays new troopers over $62,000 annually — is still around $15,000. That's no small chunk of change.

Map of average starting salaries for state troopers across the U.S.

Related: Minimum Wage Around the World

But that’s still not the whole story.

Seeing the difference in income may make it seem appealing to move to another state, like California or New York, for better earnings. Both states are on the higher end for starting salaries for teachers and state troopers compared to other locations around the country. But just looking at compensation alone can be deceiving; cost of living is also an important factor.

Mississippi, the cheapest state to live in as of 2015, also offered pretty low median starting salaries for both teachers and state troopers at $31,184 and $37,000, respectively. But what are those incomes worth in California?

According to CNN’s Cost of Living Calculator, $30,000 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is comparable to making around $41,000 in California’s capital, Sacramento. This also happens to be very close to the average starting salary of a teacher in the state ($41,259). So what happened to all that extra pay for the California-based teacher? It was swallowed up, lost to the much higher cost of living commanded by California's palm trees, beaches and fair weather.

Suddenly, Mississippi's pay is looking nearly equal to the Golden State, rather than thousands of dollars behind.

The higher median entry-level pay for teachers in Honolulu, Hawaii ($41,027), also starts to lose its luster when put through a cost of living adjustment. It’s only worth about $22,000 in Pierre, South Dakota. Shockingly, that's about $7,500 lower than the average new teacher salary in the state, and South Dakota is already the second lowest paying state in the nation for entry-level teacher salaries. This means that while Hawaii's median pay may seem high, it won't get you far when we take the equally high costs to live on the Big Island into account.

Reality check: a new educator would actually get more worth from their paycheck working for less money in South Dakota where their dollars go further than for a larger payday in Honolulu.

Based on ATTN:'s number crunching, the situation is similar for most states that offer higher starting pay. California and New York offer the highest entry-level pay for state troopers; they also happen to be the third and fourth most expensive places to live based on the 2015 cost of living index, siphoning away much of that bump in income over other cheaper locales. The same is true for higher median starting teacher pay: of the 10 states with the highest cost of living in the country, eight of them pay better than average for newly starting teachers.

It is possible to get more bang for your buck in certain places depending on your profession and other factors — like Wyoming, where starting pay for teachers is the fifth highest in the nation but cost of living is in the bottom half of states, or Texas, where new state troopers make more than most other states but enjoy the eighteenth lowest cost of living in the country. However, before you pick up and move across the country, it certainly pays to do your homework. Cost of living can have a surprising impact.

Check out the Cost of Living Calculator to see what your salary is worth in different cities across the country here.

Related: Young Americans Are Entering The Best Job Market Since Recession