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Thread: Highest and lowest planning salaries relative to local cost of living

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Highest and lowest planning salaries relative to local cost of living

    We know that in California, mid-level planning jobs in local government have salaries that approach, and sometimes break six digits. However, the cost of housing in California can be astronomical.

    Some parts of the country have remarkably low costs of living, but planning job salaries can be on par with that of fast food restaurant assistant managers. One job listing posted on Cyburbia about a year ago, for a planning director position for a county in Pennsylvania, offered the whopping starting salary of $30,000.

    Where are the places that offer the best ratio of typical planner salaries relative to the local cost of living and housing? How about the worst?

    I've noticed that planning jobs in the New York metropolitan area offer salaries that are below the national average, in a region that has one of the most expensive costs of living in the world. It also seems like jobs in central Texas (Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, etc), where the cost of housing is quite low compared to the US as a whole, offer very good salaries.

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Boston has to be on the list for the worst. Even in the affluent suburbs I haven't seen a listing for a mid-level position that pays above the low 40s.

    Florida would probably be on the list of the best, but no where near as high as I've seen in California. Connecticut pays pretty well too.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Living in the NYC Metro on a planner's salary is tough... at least at first. Because the public sector jobs are civil service positions, there are regular, scheduled raises. The chief planner here makes pretty good money. Higher level positions can pay some serious $$. The cost of living here really is pretty atrocious, you're right about that.

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    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Arizona seems to pay really well against cost of living. It's roughly 16% more expensive to live in Phoenix than Austin, but salary levels go up almost 40%.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    In Michigan, salaries are very regional. In some of the older, established communities in Metro Detroit, I think that mid to upper-level planning positions pay fairly well compared to the cost of living. It's very difficult to get those jobs though.

    Everywhere else in Michigan, I think that planner salaries are on par with the cost of living, although entry level positions may be somewhat underpaid.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    Arizona seems to pay really well against cost of living. It's roughly 16% more expensive to live in Phoenix than Austin, but salary levels go up almost 40%.
    This was what I observed. Salaries in the southwest, like Arizona and Nevada, not California, seem to match up well against the cost of living.

  7. #7
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Central Texas and DFW do seem to pay in line with cost of living. I could purchase a house in the city I work, in decent condition, on my salary alone (mid-level planner). I am on the very fringe of the Austin metro though; Our median sale price is around $155k (more house than I need), while in Austin proper it is closer to $220k or perhaps more (haven't looked that up in a while).



    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie
    Location: Hippoland, USA (Hey, at least it's not the "Pf")
    Because I'm one of the few folks in Central Texas on here and actually "get it", I have to say that this really cracks me up.


    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    Arizona seems to pay really well against cost of living. It's roughly 16% more expensive to live in Phoenix than Austin, but salary levels go up almost 40%.
    Quote Originally posted by Tresmo View post
    This was what I observed. Salaries in the southwest, like Arizona and Nevada, not California, seem to match up well against the cost of living.
    If you come out this way be prepared to work. This is the fastest growing region in the country and most planning departments have been swamped. With the housing slow down most are catching up. Our town was looking for a senior planner for 6 months but with no qualified applicants we pulled the position. A neighboring community was hiring planner I with no expereince required. They were offering internships at the local university to MUP and MPA students and if they were competent were offered Planner I slots. Of course they town grew around 1,100% in the past 7 years so they were just trying to keep up.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

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    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    Off-topic:
    Because I'm one of the few folks in Central Texas on here and actually "get it", I have to say that this really cracks me up.
    I aim to please

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Boston area = lousy pay/cost of living ratio (only hope for many is the private sector)

    Minneapolis/St. Paul area = good pay/cost of living ratio

    Just what I've noticed...

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    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    I live and work in NYMetro area...and potential planners see our salaries...think they are good for even the NYmetro area, until they see the cost of housing. A salary might be one thing...but the projects I work on are great...and wouldn't want to work some place where I would be looking at subdivisions all day...or struggle as a planner in a community that has no money and would sell their soul to a CVS, Hess Station or used car dealre just for tax money.

    But I used to work upstate...and the salaries were horribly low. I used to work for the City of Binghamon...and they had a consultant look at restructering the Planning Dept. No surprise to me...the consultant said the salaries were really low. The report is online here:
    http://www.cityofbinghamton.com/libr...lan-(2006).pdf

    One thing about working here...is I have the same retirement plan as those working upstate. I can move anywhere....and have a much better pension. Our higher ups make good money..and I really can't complain too much at mid-level.
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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    Off-topic:

    I aim to please
    And as my wife would say (inspired by a vacation-home toilet sign):

    You aim, too, please...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    My impression is that Colorado and Wisconsin seem to be about average. The variation will come in if you go into rural areas where the pay is low, but you still need to trave a couple hours into the larger cities, or if you live in a resrt/ski area where housing may cost more. Illinois is, I think, slightly above average in the Chicago suburbs. Chicago itself, and the rural areas, are a bit low. Wages in the plains states are pretty well matched to the local cost of living. That still leaves you with little discretionary income to enjoy more expensive pursuits like travel or a new car. Face it, low cost of living only makes up for part of a low salary.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Boston has to be on the list for the worst. Even in the affluent suburbs I haven't seen a listing for a mid-level position that pays above the low 40s.
    I would whole-heartedly agree with hilldweller. That's why I left Beantown.

    I would posit that North Carolina has reletively high planner salaries when compared to the cost of living. In most NC cities, it is still possible to live 30-45 minutes outside the city for a steal while still pulling in an urban salary.

  15. #15
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    It's all about supply and demand:

    high growth areas are paying well; moderate growth areas with high applicant pool (Boston, Midwest) are not so much.

  16. #16
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I came in as high as I could get away with for this job because I knew that even though it's Maine, the housing prices are resort/tourism levels - it was great for the rest of the state because it brought up the average for planners when the salary survey was done -

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