Working from home is not an urban escape

Working from home is not an urban escape

Contrary to popular perception, the foci of WFH in the country are expensive big-city and suburban neighborhoods.

The mass shift to remote work during the pandemic has allowed people with professional and administrative jobs to do so effectively from mountain yards, seaside cottages, and exotic foreign places. Mainly, though, it appears to have enabled residents of nearby metropolitan and suburban neighborhoods to avoid going to offices that were in some cases within walking distance of their homes.

Those numbers are from the 2021 edition of the American Community Survey, a type of small census that the US Census Bureau sends to 3.5 million households each year. They came in response to a multiple-choice question, posed to family members who had already reported performing paid work in the previous week: “How did this person usually start working in the last week?”

“Car, truck, or van” remained the most frequently checked box, with 75.6% of American workers finding their jobs this way in 2021. But the percentage working from home, which has been rising slowly for years, jumped to 17.9% in 2021 from 5.7% before the pandemic in 2019. And in some places, as the above graph should show, the percentage jumped much more.

The places I chose to focus on here are the Census Public Use Microdata Areas, or PUMA, which breaks the nation down into units large enough (with a population of over 100,000, usually) for the Census Bureau to release microdata from which anyone can aggregate their data Own estimates and custom schedules without compromising the privacy of respondents. These particular numbers are not derived from partial data (which is not yet released and is only released as five-year averages in any case) but from a table published by the Census Bureau in mid-September that I saw a Twitter user refer to as a pseudonym but otherwise not receive enough attention which it deserves.

A great advantage of PUMA is that it divides various large cities into more coherent parts while at the same time collecting suburbs (and small towns and rural areas) that alone do not have enough people for the Census Bureau to release their data. Sorting by PUMAs shows that working from home was more prevalent near office centers last year. Central Washington, D.C. includes, in the Census Bureau calculations (this map) the nation’s most famous home office, the White House, as well as the Capitol Mall and its northern and southern neighborhoods, from Foggy Bottom to Dupont Circle to Adams Morgan to Shaw to new housing developments in Southwest Navy Yard. In San Francisco, the Inner Mission & Castro and North Beach & Chinatown PUMAs are located near downtown, and include South of Market & Potrero, as well as Seattle’s Queen Anne & Magnolia PUMA. Even the suburban areas in the above chart are home to corporate headquarters and other large office complexes, with the country’s three largest companies by market capitalization located in Cupertino (Apple Inc.), Redmond (Microsoft Corp.), and Mountain View (the parent company of Google Inc.) Alphabet).

Because I know you want more, and also because the margins of error here are such that the 15th and 30th are statistically indistinguishable, here are the next 15 in order (I was going to put them all in one chart but it’s getting too crowded). They list more suburbs, but they are all suburbs close to central cities or large office centers. (1)[1)

The Census Bureau also released home-working estimates for cities and places identified in the census of 65,000 or more residents. The top 15 ranking of these explains why the list of PUMAs is more informative, I think, but it also highlights some of the more interesting WFH hotspots in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, San Francisco and Atlanta.

When I posted a version of this graph on Twitter a couple of weeks ago (based on a different Census Bureau table that contains data only for fewer and larger cities), many people reacted with surprise that nearby cities and suburbs dominated the rankings rather than suburbs and mountain resorts. This is partly because there aren’t many suburbs or mountain resorts with more than 65,000 people, although the PUMA statistics covering these places (the chart below shows a less-than-scientific variety selected) also don’t reveal any high WFH numbers. Height .

Sure, there are parts of scenic Sonoma, its suburbs, and neighboring Bozeman and Jackson national parks (which are in Teton County, Wyoming) where most people work from home, but to get close to PUMA’s threshold of 100,000 people, these parts must be counted alongside neighborhoods and other rural areas where most of the population works in practical jobs. In large urban agglomerations, there are so many people working from home that they can control entire cities with more than 65,000 people or PUMAs of more than 100,000.

Which brings us to those urban agglomerations. It was a report on the work-from-home share by commuting area by Adam Ozemic and Eric Carlson of the Economic Innovation Group, a Washington think tank, that inspired me to dive into this data. Here I have chosen to sort by the most common designations for urban areas (a county or group of counties with a core urban area of ​​at least 50,000 people) and small areas (same but with a core between 10,000 and 50,000).

One small area, Truckee and Grass Valley in the mountains and hills north and east of Lake Tahoe, makes up the top 15 metropolitan areas with a population of no more than one million people (Boulder, Durham-Chapel Hill, Ann Arbor, Trenton-Princeton and Corvallis), while the five largest The country’s metro areas (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston) are missing. But the ranking is still dominated by some very large cities.

The epidemiological exodus from major cities was not an illusion. The urban population has really declined, and the demand for suburban homes and mountain resorts has really gone up. However, the vast majority of white-collar workers who gathered in big cities and expensive suburbs before the pandemic stayed put even when they stopped going to the office. One possible explanation for this is that there is still a lot of pent-up demand for housing away from traditional work centers – mass migration has just begun. Another is that nearby cities and suburbs have attractions that go beyond just being close to the office.

Justin Fox is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion covering business. A former managing editor of Harvard Business Review, he has written for Time magazine, Fortune, and American Banker. He is the author of The Myth of the Rational Market.

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