On paper, the life of a licensed massage therapist looks pretty comfortable; the American Massage Therapy Association reports an average hourly wage of $47 per hour, including tips. The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects steady growth of the profession -- about 20 percent between 2010 and 2020. For the best chance of success in this competitive field, starting your business in the right city makes all the difference.
Follow the Jobs
In 2012, Chicago, Ill., employed more massage therapists than any other city in America, clocking in at 2,310 professionals, according to BLS data. Los Angeles, Calif., follows closely with 2,190 masseuses, then New York City with 2,130. Location quotients -- a measure of a location's industrial specialization compared to a larger location, typically a country -- tell a different story, however. For massage therapists, Napa, Calif., has a location quotient of 14.01, a highly impressive figure considering that a 1.0 indicates that a city and country, for instance, have the same employment specialization. This rating makes Napa far and away the most employment-dense city for a budding masseuse. Pittsfield, Mass., and Fort Collins, Colo., trail behind Napa with location quotients of 5.70 and 4.75, respectively.
Follow the Cash
Going slightly remote potentially nets the best wage, according to BLS figures. As per 2012 data, the BLS reports that massage therapists in the city of Anchorage, Alaska, earn an annual mean wage of $83,130. Danbury, Conn., massage therapists pull down a healthy $67,980 while those in Holland and Grand Haven, Mich., make $65,920. Getting a bit more general, massage therapists in the southwest Massachusetts, northern Vermont, western North Carolina and northwestern Washington nonmetropolitan areas all make above-average annual mean wages of between about $58,000 and $68,000.
Where to Work
Statistics surely help, but they're not the single deciding factor. As you consider cities in which to practice massage therapy, other variables affect your chances for success. Unless you're independently employed, look for a city that has established businesses likely to hire a massage therapist. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, spas, salons, health care organizations, athletic facilities, health clubs and, of course, massage therapy franchises are the businesses most likely to hire credentialed massage therapists. In fact, 29 percent of massage therapists work in spas while another 29 percent work in health care settings, according to 2012 data from AMTA.
More to Consider
If you choose to live in one of the 43 states that regulate massage therapists or require certification, cover yourself legally by passing the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam or an exam provided by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Strange as it may sound, cities with a higher concentration of women are more likely to provide a masseuse with work, as women are about 11 percent more likely to get a massage than men, according to 2011 AMTA reports. A city with a healthy employment rate and businesses that offer jobs aligned with your qualifications is never a bad idea -- the AMTA reports that 53 percent of all massage therapists work another job in addition to their massage practice.