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Study: Big Apple, California give least bang for buck

New London, Conn., and Huntsville, Ala., are tops in "salary value," but report ignores intangibles such as culture and weather.

The Golden State may have sun, start-ups and symphonies, but its cities offer a paltry bang for your hard-earned buck.

That's the lesson of a study released Monday by compensation specialist that looks at living costs and average pay in nearly 200 U.S. cities. The "salary value index" found that seven of the 10 "least favorable" cities were in California, with San Francisco rated second worst, San Jose fourth worst and San Diego fifth worst. New York City ranked as the No. 1 least favorable city.

New London, Conn., ranked as the top "most favorable" city, followed by Huntsville, Ala., and Baltimore.

That centers of culture and commerce such as New York City and San Francisco could rate so poorly reflects the report's quantitative approach. The "analysis focuses purely on the relationship between living costs and pay," the report said. "It does not take into account such qualitative factors as school systems, weather, infrastructure and culture."

One measurement of the difference in cultural intangibles is the number of museums in New York City versus the number in Schenectady, N.Y., the upstate New York city that ranked as ninth most favorable in the study. The Big Apple boasts more than 80 museums, including the world-famous Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, according to Web site Schenectady claims just the Schenectady Museum and the Schenectady County Historical Society Museum, according to the city's Web site. (The city also says its well-known residents have included director John Sayles, actor Mickey Rourke and actress Ann B. Davis, who played the housekeeper on "The Brady Bunch.")

Californians might scoff at the study's rankings, but civic leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area have warned that factors including the cost of housing threaten the tech mecca's economic vitality. Since 2000, Santa Clara County--the heart of Silicon Valley--has lost more than 200,000 jobs, a little more than 20 percent of its job base. Though much of that decline reflects the dot-com collapse, tech work has been flowing offshore and has also been moving to lower-cost locales in the United States.

On the other hand, the Silicon Valley tech economy seems to be rebounding. Venture capital investment in the region rose 15 percent last year, and Silicon Valley now receives 35 percent of the nation's venture capital, up from 14 percent in 1995, according to a report earlier this year from nonprofit group Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network.

According to, Harrisburg, Penn., ranked as the fourth most favorable city when it comes to living costs and average pay, followed by Tulsa, Okla.; Rock Island, Ill.; Troy, N.Y.; Corpus Christi, Texas; Schenectady, N.Y.; and Las Vegas.

Here are the top 10 most favorable and least favorable cities, according to the "salary value index" report:

Most favorable cities
1. New London, Conn.
2. Huntsville, Ala.
3. Baltimore
4. Harrisburg, Penn.
5. Tulsa, Okla.
6. Rock Island, Ill.
7. Troy, N.Y.
8. Corpus Christi, Texas
9. Schenectady, N.Y.
10. Las Vegas

Least favorable cities
1. New York City
2. San Francisco
3. Stamford, Conn.
4. San Jose, Calif.
5. San Diego
6. Santa Barbara, Calif.
7. Bakersfield, Calif.
8. Los Angeles
9. Fresno, Calif.
10. Boston