Where America Wants to Work: The Top Destination Job Markets in the U.S.

Where America Wants to Work: The Top Destination Job Markets in the U.S.

The notion that Americans are a mobile people – forever looking beyond the horizon for new opportunities, always ready to uproot our lives to follow economic opportunity wherever it may take us – is central to our view of ourselves as a nation.

The massive waves of internal immigration that have periodically swept the country serve to reinforce our belief that when the going gets tough the tough get going, specifically to greener economic pastures. Whether it’s the Gold Rush, the Great Migration, or the mass abandonment of the Rust Belt in favor of glittering Sun Belt cities like Atlanta and Houston, American have seemingly always voted with their feet.

We wondered, though, if that was still the case. How likely are modern Americans to move for a new job? What incentives would motivate them to move for a new job? What areas of the country are seen by Americans to be the most vibrant? Are they right?

To find out, we surveyed thousands of active jobseekers on ZipRecruiter.com, asking them a series of questions about their attitudes towards moving for a new job. We also analyzed activity on over 1,000,000 applications to compare actual jobseeker behavior with their self-reported attitudes.

Key Findings

What we found was somewhat surprising.

When we asked jobseekers if they have ever considered moving to find or take a new job, over 58% of them said “no”:



That strong plurality jibes with what we saw when we asked jobseekers how far they were willing to commute:


Though jobseekers expressed a strong desire to stay close to home, we wondered what could convince them to move for a new job. Unsurprisingly, “More Money” was the number one choice, with “More available jobs” coming in a distant third, below “Quality of life”:


Of course, there is often a variance between self-reported attitudes and actual behavior, so we analyzed recent applications actions on ZipRecruiter.com. Using anonymized location data, we measured the distance between jobseekers home zip codes and the zip code of the job they were applying for to see at what rate they were applying to out of town jobs, and if they were, where those jobs were.

In the top 20 MSA’s, we saw an average out of town application rate of 18.6%, with the follow metro areas as the most popular overall destinations:

  1. Los Angeles, CA
  2. New York, NY
  3. Houston, TX
  4. Atlanta, GA
  5. Washington, DC
  6. San Francisco, CA
  7. Dallas, TX
  8. Miami, FL
  9. Boston, MA
  10. Orlando, FL

This geographic dispersion correlates fairly well with our jobseeker attitude survey, which showed that the South is perceived as the most economically vibrant region of the country:


But how does that perception stack up against reality? Are jobseekers correctly reading the job market in various regions of the U.S.? We looked at our report from earlier this year in which we identified the top cities and regions for jobs and compared them with the top cities and regions jobseekers were actively attempting to move to:

Top 10 Job Markets vs. Most Popular Destinations

Top 10 Job MarketsMost Popular Destinations
1. Salt Lake City, UT1. Los Angeles, CA
2. Omaha, NE2. New York, NY
3. Madison, WI3. Houston, TX
4. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN4. Atlanta, GA
5. Des Moines, IA5. Washington, DC
6. Austin, TX6. San Francisco, CA
7. Baton Rouge, LA7. Dallas, TX
8. Springfield, MO8. Miami, FL
9. Irvine, CA9. Boston, MA
10. New Orleans, LA10. Orlando, FL

The differences are pronounced. Large, well known population centers continue to be a magnet for jobseekers, even though mid-size destinations often offer lower unemployment rates and more affordable housing.

On a regional level, however, the most popular destinations for jobseekers correlate fairly closely with our 2014 job market rankings:

Regional Job Markets Ranked vs. Most Popular Regions

Regional Job Markets Ranked Most Popular Regions
1. South1. South
2. Midwest2. West
3. West3. Midwest
4. Northeast4. Northeast

Interestingly enough, a look at the regions ranked by frequency of attempted departures reveals substantial “churn” amongst jobseekers, with the South and West ranked 1 and 2 for intended destinations and departures. This may indicate a robust cross-migration between the most economically vibrant regions, similar to what we see on a city level in the churn between Los Angeles and New York City.

Regional Departure Rates Ranked

  1. South
  2. West
  3. Northeast
  4. Midwest

We also wanted to visualize where jobseekers from the biggest markets wanted to move. In the graphic below, we took our anonymized application action data and by measuring the number of outgoing applications from one city to another, were able to map the top desired job destinations of jobseekers in the 20 biggest MSA’s.

Click on each city to see the top 5 desired job destinations for jobseekers looking to move for work:

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At ZipRecruiter, our mission is to connect employers and job seekers with their next great opportunity. On the ZipRecruiter blog, we use insider experience and data derived from our AI-driven jobs marketplace to provide advice and insights on topics such as the job search process, interviewing, and labor market trends. Start your job search or post a job today and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

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