For most of us, salaries have barely budged since 2009. Working Americans received an average pay hike of 2.7 percent in 2011, according to a survey by Aon Hewitt. That was offset by inflation, however, which made everything you want to buy 3 percent more expensive.
But not everybody had their purchasing power squeezed last year. In fact, in some cities, the average worker enjoyed a paycheck that was 3 percent, 4 percent or even 5 percent fatter than the year before. So the Martin Prosperity Institute scoured through Bureau of Labor Statistics data to discover what those cities were.
These aren't the nation's biggest cities. And they don't always have notably low unemployment. But for their own reasons, workers in these metro areas scored a couple extra thousand dollars of pocket money last year. In some places the average raise was close to double the national rate.
Take a look at the top nine, and then tell us: Were you satisfied with your raise last year? Are you expecting one this year?
9 Best Places In America To Get A Raise
9 Best Places In America To Get A Raise
The average worker in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. enjoyed a raise of $1,930, bringing the average salary from $45,010 to $46,940. That translates to three more months rent for an average two-bedroom apartment in the area. But that doesn't mean everyone in this eastern Illinois metro area is feeling the relief. The unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher than the national average, hardly budging from July the year before, and up a percentage point from June.
Some people are raking in the cash, however. Champaign-Urbana is the home of the flagship campus of the University of Illinois, which had the third largest number of startups emerge from its research last year, according to the Association of University Technology Managers, right behind the University of California system and MIT. Those start-ups, plus 93 patents, brought the university $17.4 million in licensing income in 2011.
Looking for a job in Champaign or Urbana? Start you search here.
Workers in Wenatchee, Wash., got $2,030 of extra padding in their paychecks last year, tipping the average salary over the $40,000 mark. The unemployment rate in "The Apple Capital of the World" swings wildly with the picking seasons, reaching 9.6 percent in February, and then plummeting to 5.9 percent in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the wage jump has more to do with some high-wage jobs coming back, according to Mark Berreth, a north-central Washington labor economist at the Employment Security Department.
In the wake of the recession, Berreth says that a lot of the better-salaried positions were outsourced to larger metro areas in the state. "Now they're coming back in manufacturing areas, management occupations, engineering and architects," he says. "That really helped the wage boost."
Looking for a job in Wenatchee? Start your search here.
The average worker in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara got a nice $2,030 pay bump last year. And residents of this area south of San Francisco already had a higher starting salary than any other metro on this list, with the average wage jumping from $67,850 a year to $69,880.
This metro area's unemployment rate in July was 8.7 percent, below the California average of 10.2 percent, thanks to its booming tech scene. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara has the highest percentage of college grads of any metro area country, behind Washington D.C., with 43 percent of adults age 25 or over clutching a college degree, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. And this area requested more H-1B visas -- which allow foreign workers with specialized skills to work in the U.S. -- than any other metro in the country.
Looking for a job in San Jose, Sunnyvale, or Santa Clara? Start you search here.
Williamsport was all fanfare last month, as the Little League World Series took over the town. But there are other reasons to celebrate -- with the average Williamsport worker receiving a $2,120 raise last year, bringing the average salary to $38,370.
The city gained 1,700 jobs in 2011, more than any other metro area in the state, reported the Williamsport-Sun Gazette, largely propelled by the Marcellus Shale gas boom. Last year, companies drilled 300 natural gas wells in Lycoming County, where Williamsport is the county seat, reports the local TV station WNEP, and the effects have been rippling out.
This year, the Pennsylvania College of Technology opened up an Energy Technology Education Center to train natural gas workers and emergency responders. The regional airport plans to build a new terminal, and hopes to attract a second airline. An environmental law firm has even opened up a satellite office in town.
Looking for a job in Williamsport? Start your search here.
One hundred years ago, nearly 30,000 textile workers in the Massachusetts mill town of Lawrence walked off their jobs, and paraded and picketed in the bitter New England winter. "We want bread, and roses, too," they shouted. And after nine weeks, they won a 15 percent wage hike.
Last year, the residents of Lawrence, as well as the nearby towns of Methuen and Salem (which together form a single metro area), won another wage hike -- no bayonets necessary. Their paychecks were sweetened to the sum of $2,290 last year, shifting wages up to an average of $47,170.
Looking for a job in Lawrence, Methuen or Salem? Start your search here.
Workers in Dubuque, Iowa, scored a $2,300 raise last year, ticking their average salary up to $38,370. The area's unemployment fell to 4.6 percent in July, a number impressively below the national average, especially for an old manufacturing town.
But that's because Dubuque had its depression back in the 1980s, when factories closed, and unemployment -- at 23 percent -- was the highest in the nation. Since then, the town has diversified into tourism, health care and financial services, reports The Wichita Eagle. IBM opened a global services technology center just a few years back, and in 2010 Forbes magazine named Dubuque the top U.S. city for projected job growth. Manufacturers are even claiming that there's a shortage of workers with needed skills.
Looking for a job in Dubuque? Start your search here.
The second Iowan metro on this list, Iowa City has been having a rosier time than most since the recession. Iowa City has sustained one of the lowest unemployment rates and employees gained an extra $2,330 last year, bringing their yearly salaries to an average of $44,170. The University of Iowa is the biggest game in town, employing over 16,500, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, and the university's hospitals send paychecks to another 7,700 residents of the area. All of that makes for some thick recession insulation.
Looking for a job in Iowa City? Start your search here.
Bloomington is the third college town on this list, as the home of the first and largest campus of Indiana University. That doesn't mean the town hasn't been hurting -- the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in July, up from 8 percent the month before. But those who have a job in Bloomington saw their wages jump by $2,460 to $35,650 last year.
But they aren't necessarily harboring all that new cash. Homeless individuals make pilgrimages to the southern Indiana town, reports The Associated Press, because of the famed generosity of its residents.
Looking for a job in Bloomington? Start your search here.