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Best places to get a job in the US

February 21, 2007 12:39 IST

Oklahoma has inspired its share of songs and one memorable musical. But it's not exactly a top destination for recent college graduates looking for work. Usually, 22-year-olds flock to cosmopolitan cities like New York and San Francisco, assuming that's where they'll find the most opportunities for work (and, let's be honest, a social life). But they might be heading in the wrong direction. Oklahoma City made it on to our list of the 25 best American cities to get a job. New York's ranking? No. 75.

Of course, if you want a job in finance, you should still consider New York--Warren Buffett notwithstanding. And while Oklahoma City surely has a thriving arts community, the major metropolitan areas are probably your best bet if you want a career in theater.

Our list looks only at statistics; we don't focus on which areas are best for specific careers. And for the second time in a row, the big cities performed poorly. While Washington D.C. is fifth on the list (down from No. 1 last year), Chicago (No. 82), Los Angeles (No. 88), San Francisco (No. 86) and Boston (No. 83) couldn't even break the top 75.

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To compile the rankings, we used five data points, weighted equally: Unemployment rate, job growth, income growth, median household income, and cost of living. We measured the largest 100 metropolitan areas, as defined by the US Census Bureau, and obtained the data from Moody's economy.com. But we've updated the methodology since the last time we did this survey.

In 2006, we used a five-year average for job growth and income growth, so the 2001 economic downturn was included in the data. That disproportionately hurt financial centers like New York and technology hubs like San Francisco and San Jose. This year, we only used growth data for 2003 through 2006, which boosted the major cities a bit. Last year, New York, San Francisco and Chicago were all in the bottom 15.

A journey through our Best Cities For Jobs would start in Bethesda, Md., then head down the coast to Florida, west to Texas, Oklahoma, and Arizona and up through California. In fact, unlike last year, when Camden, NJ, made the list, few cities outside of this southern and western crescent were among the top 25 this year. The southeast and southwest benefit from great weather, lots of land available for development, a relatively low cost of living and a business-friendly tax climate. Other statistics confirm our findings.

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According to Manpower's latest employment outlook survey, employers in the south and west expect to hire the most employees in the first quarter of 2007, according to Melanie Holmes, vice president of corporate affairs.

Raleigh, NC, topped our list this year. The city has low unemployment, strong income and job growth, and high incomes--yet it still maintains a relatively low cost of living. Raleigh is part of the "research triangle," including Durham and Chapel Hill.

Three major universities--Duke, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State University--make their homes in the area. The result: A city with good weather, a relatively low cost of living and a highly educated population. "There isn't much of a negative in Raleigh," says Steven Cochrane, an economist with Moody's economy.com, which provided us with the data for this story. "It has a lot of the amenities of Florida, except not the hurricanes."

Despite those hurricanes and the much-heralded housing slowdown, Florida took top honors among the states; five of its cities made it into the top 25 this year. Jacksonville came in third, up from No. 8 last year, and Fort Lauderdale moved up from No. 25 to No. 9.

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While the construction industry isn't generating as many jobs as it was two years ago, tourism is still hot, especially with the dollar weak compared to the euro. But don't pack your bags and move to the Sunshine State just yet. When we redo this survey, we might find that a few Florida cities have dropped off the list.

"The economy has shifted a lot in the past year, especially with the housing market cooling down," says Hugo Sellert, an economist and research manager with Monster. He's predicting Florida and Phoenix will weaken, while the Midwest and Texas will start generating more jobs.

So where should you look for work? We wouldn't rule out New York or Los Angeles; highly educated job-seekers should be able to find opportunities there. But the major metropolitan areas will probably never shine on this list.

Despite high median incomes, they are generally plagued by unemployment, expensive housing and low job growth. "The big cities have more problems with their education systems, with their infrastructure," says Manpower's Holmes. "The big cities have the inner cities."

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Hannah Clark, Forbes