They say where you live matters when it comes to buying a home. Live on one side of town, and the houses are cheaper, but resale value is lower too. The same goes with compensation. Want to work in national security but live in Idaho? You may love where you live, but compensation (and your job options) are a little different than in a national security hub like Virginia  or Maryland.

Top 10 States with the Highest Salaries for Cleared Candidates

So which states compensate cleared candidates? Here are the top 10, according to the ClearanceJobs 2022 Security Clearance Compensation Report. And I’m going to make some mad because I’m going to leave the District of Columbia off the top 10 list. We all know D.C. isn’t a state, and everyone knows compensation will be high ($109,163). But we also know how high the housing costs are and this will open up room for one more state to make the list. The key to a long career in national security is knowing all your options.

1. Virginia

Virginia is not first because I’m biased. Virginia tops the list because despite having smaller hubs that pay less in the state, they still have the most respondents than any other state, and average compensation is $110,096. It helps that Virginia pretty much has it all – history, entertainment, and plenty of cleared employers. More employers are setting up shop in Northern Virginia (hello Boeing and Raytheon!) and we’ll see if the FBI avoids Maryland and settles a little farther south.

2. Maryland

Maryland has about half the cleared workforce of Northern Virginia, and their average compensation is still about $3,500 less, coming in at $106,876. But the housing situation is a bit different as well. While housing is still expensive, many national security workers find the lower housing prices to be their ticket to staying in the D.C. Metro region. Others move farther away, making the commute, as they pray for more cleared, remote options.

3. Colorado

With D.C. not on this list, Colorado gets the privilege of coming in at third place, with an average total compensation of $105,174. And really, cleared workers should not sleep on this state. The number of cleared opportunities continue to grow each year, especially with the addition of Space Force contracting options. And with the whole work hard, play hard vibe in Colorado, some clearance holders are finding ways to make the work-life balance happen.

4. California

California has always had a way of finding gold, coming in at fourth place, with an average total compensation of $103,322. California may not be the most business-friendly state, but it is the seventh happiest place to live in America, according to WalletHub. And clearance holders can find multiple opportunities up and down the California coast, with a diversity of opportunities.

5. Alabama

Who knew that you could head to the deep south and find an average total compensation of $95,626 – putting Alabama at number five on the top 10 list. They even beat out Florida by almost $500, making all those investments in Rocket City and the pitch for USSPACECOM worth it. The more companies that flock to Alabama, the more options the state has to offer to agencies already considering a move.

6. Florida

Florida may come in at sixth place with an average total compensation of $95,105, but the cost of living is a major factor. With no income tax in Florida, clearance holders will find those dollars going farther. Add in some beaches, and the Sunshine State looks more enticing for cleared candidates.

7. Texas

Texas may not be as winning as they think they should be, but the Lonestar State has a strong standing in the top 10, boasting an average total compensation of $93,285. In a few more years, as more tech companies set up shop in the state, Texas will compete more against other states with its no income tax status. As business-friendly states like Texas draw in more competition, clearance holders have more options to make strategic career moves and never move out of state.

8. Arizona

Year-round sunshine and that infamous dry heat make Arizona a hot region for the aerospace industry. With military hubs and plenty of defense contractors, the state has an average total compensation of $90,525. Arizona boasts a large military talent pipeline, with 600,000 service members and veterans from all branches and eras of services making the state their home.

9. North Carolina

Average total compensation in North Carolina is $89,928 – just over $10,000 less than the national cleared average. But for some, the opportunity to jump in an out of national security with all of the tech options can be a big pull. Whether the work is in Fayetteville, near a military base, or in the heart of Raleigh, clearance holders have a number of options in the state.

10. Georgia

Georgia slides into the top 10 with an average total compensation of $86,900. If the south is calling you, taking the $23,000 pay cut from what you could earn in Virginia may be the right ticket for your work-life balance. With a cleared workforce bigger than Alabama or Arizona, Georgia offers steady, reliable work for clearance holders.

East, West. Home’s Best

The key in having a long career in national security is finding a state that compensates well, while also provides multiple career options. Candidates still in their early careers should consider states with a lower housing cost, as they build experience. The higher the experience and education, the bigger the difference between compensation levels. For example, Florida offers entry level candidates only $7,000 less than Virginia. But jump forward about 10 years, and Florida pays senior level career candidates about $20,000 less than Virginia. Experience will go farther in some of the more competitive states. So, if your first few offers out of college are with smaller career hubs, get your foot in the door with a cheaper overhead whenever possible and grow your cleared career from there.


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.