These are the best U.S. cities to live in on a teacher's salary -- and the worst

Erin Richards

Clarification: The graphics in this story have been updated to reflect that the salaries listed are for gross pay, before taxes, as reported by employers to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You're an elementary school teacher with a few years in the system. Where in the country will your pay stretch the furthest?

Our first-of-its-kind analysis of teacher pay vs. housing costs in almost every U.S. metro area sought to answer that question. We based our standard for "most affordable" and "least affordable" on finance experts' recommendation to spend no more than 30% of your salary on housing. 

For teachers earning a median wage, the following metro areas offered the best and worst cost of living.

And for recent graduates: The most-affordable cities listed below were pretty affordable for new teachers, too.

What about your city? See our map of teacher pay and housing costs for 291 U.S. metro areas

Most affordable cities for teachers

1. Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Ninety minutes from Pittsburgh, Johnstown offers healthy salaries in the local school district, set against very low local housing prices. That's largely because the city is in distress; it's a former steelworker town. Mid-career teachers here earn about $56,000 in gross pay and would need to spend just 16% of that salary to afford median rent in the area.

2. Springfield, Ohio 

There are many Springfields, and two made our list for most affordable cities. First, Springfield, Ohio. Educators with experience here earn almost $64,000 and need to pay only 17% of it to afford the median rent. Locals told us that most teachers, however, prefer to live in nearby Dayton or Columbus and commute.

3. Rockford, Illinois 

More than two hours from the Windy City in far northern Illinois, mid-career teachers in the Rockford area earn almost $79,000 in gross pay and spend less than 20% of it on the local median rent. Chicago teachers, you can turn and groan now. 

4. Las Cruces, New Mexico

If deserts are your thing and you want to be closer to the border between U.S. and Mexico, head to Las Cruces, where mid-career teachers make almost $74,000 and still put less than 20% of their pay toward the median rent. 

5. Springfield, Missouri 

In the heart of the Ozarks, the second super-affordable Springfield captures the area around Missouri's third-largest city. Experienced teachers earn about $57,000 and need to spend 20% of it to afford the median rent. Now you can afford repeat tram rides through Fantastic Caverns.

Where else? These teachers' jobs give fair salary, housing, respect. All they had to do was leave U.S.

The least affordable cities for teachers

TL;DR version: Avoid California. At least the coasts. And wine country.

1. Santa Cruz, California 

The metro that's the least affordable for teachers has it all for everyone else: lovely surfing, cute shops, delicious seafood. But experienced teachers in the area only earn about $63,000, and rent is so high that an individual would have to give up two-thirds of his or her salary to afford the median rent. At least lying on the beach is free.

2. San Jose, California

You know it's bad when Facebook feels compelled to build affordable housing for teachers. Tech companies have driven home prices so high in Silicon Valley that a mid-career teacher would have to spend 64% of his or her $77,000 salary in the San Jose area to afford an apartment.

3. San Francisco

This area has been beyond the budgets of most public school teachers for decades. You're still in big tech country. A mid-career teacher around here would spend 62% of his or her $77,000 salary on rent.

4. Honolulu

You're on an island where everything is imported, and luxury high-rise condos dominate Honolulu's housing developments. All of it means a teacher earning a median wage here would have to spend more than half of his or her $61,000 salary to afford the median rent.

Paradise?: 'Living with 2 roommates in a dump': Hawaii too expensive for teachers

5. Santa Rosa, California

Yep. Back to California. Now you're spending all your money on wine instead of rent. Plus you're still getting expensive housing spillover from the San Francisco area. As a mid-career teacher, get ready to give up more than half your $75,000 salary to afford the median rent in Sonoma County.

It's not just pay: No matter where they live or what they earn, teachers feel disrespect

Education coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does not provide editorial input.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: These are the best U.S. cities to live in on a teacher's salary -- and the worst