As in real estate, one maxim holds true for personal income: location, location, location.
Using a data set released last month by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, NPR produced a comprehensive tool that compares how much workers in 356 different metro areas make to the cost of living in those areas.
The result: real income figures that put a lot of small, heartland towns ahead of the major cities on the coast.
Smaller metros tend to start with lower wages, but since they have lower costs of living as well, the real value of the median wage is higher than the nominal value.
Rochester, Minnesota had the highest real median wage in the U.S., with an initial median income of $35,844 rising to $36,279 when its low cost of living was incorporated into the figure.
Danville, Illinois had meteoric rise, with a nominal median income just above $30,000 but which shot up to nearly $36,000 in real terms.
Other big climbers included the Arkansas metros Texarkana and Hot Springs.
Washington, D.C. was the biggest loser on the list.
The nation’s capital had the highest nominal median income, coming in at $44,452, but suffered a steep decline of nearly $10,000 when the area’s high cost of living was factored in.
San Francisco and New York City each saw median incomes fall by about $9,000 in the switch to real terms, while Los Angeles started with a modest nominal median of $29,815 and dropped to a paltry $23,929 in real terms.
Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter