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The Best — and Worst — Places to Pursue a STEM Career in the United States

Perhaps surprisingly, California has the best opportunities for STEM-aligned plastics professionals.

Norbert Sparrow

January 20, 2024

2 Min Read
scientist looking at beaker with colorful liquid
Solskin/Stone via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Three California metro areas rank among the top 10 places for STEM professionals
  • California also ranks third in the nation for plastics industry employment

If your career is somewhere within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) constellation and you live in Memphis, TN, or Augusta, GA, I have a piece of advice — move! Those two metro areas are ranked among the worst places for STEM professionals, according to data from WalletHub, a personal finance company and serial supplier of listicles to the media.

WalletHub said it applied 21 key metric points, including per-capita job openings for STEM grads and median wage growth, to the 100 biggest US metro areas to root out the best and worst places to pursue a STEM career. Memphis ranks as the 95th worst but it was bested, so to speak, by Augusta at number 98. Dead last was Jackson, MS, where one might go for a wild weekend when marital passion dims (presuming that Johnny Cash was singing about the town in Mississippi and not Jackson, TN — there is some debate about that) but not where you want to be to formulate engineering polymers or develop next-gen plastics processing technologies.

The best metro areas for getting your STEM groove on, according to WalletHub, are Austin, TX, and Seattle. Three California cities — Sacramento, San Jose, and San Francisco — land right in the middle of the top 10. Atlanta and Boston are just ahead of them, and Pittsburgh, Madison, WI, and Minneapolis round out the top 10.

It gets more interesting when you cross reference this list with the Plastics Industry Association’s (PLASTICS) ranking of states with the most opportunities for plastics professionals — many of whom arguably fall into the STEM cohort. Texas is the top state for plastics employment, followed by Ohio and — wait for it — California. So, it would seem that California — with three cities in the WalletHub top 10 — is a prime location for STEM-aligned plastics professionals.

Additional fun fact: San Jose has the highest average monthly earnings for new employees in STEM industries, according to WalletHub. Whether or not that’s enough to rent a decent apartment — don’t even think about buying a house or condo — is an open question. San Jose often ranks as one of the most expensive major US cities to live in, beating even New York some years.

There’s always a trade off, of course. Still, if you’re on the engineering, tech, or scientific end of the plastics industry spectrum, and you’re living in California, I’m guessing you’re not part of that much talked about exodus to Idaho and other more-affordable points north and east. 

You can check out the full list of best and worst places to pursue a STEM career on the WalletHub site.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree. Reach him at [email protected].

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