More Americans commuting long distances to work

Between 2002 and 2009 the number of “super-commuters,” people who work in a metropolitan area’s central county while living outside the bounds of the metropolitan area, grew dramatically, far outpacing workforce growth rates, in all but two of the nation’s ten largest metropolitan labor markets. Many of these workers only make their commute once or twice a week, and worked remotely the rest of the time. A new report by Mitchell Moss and Carson Qing of NYU, recently highlighted in an article by Richard Florida, identifies the large labor markets with the highest proportion of super-commuters, providing insight into the demographic characteristics of these commuters, and the implications of this trend for cities as they plan for the future.

East Texas may be nation’s the super-commuting capital. While super-commuters make up over seven percent of the workforce in Philadelphia, Fulton (Atlanta), and Maricopa (Phoenix) counties, the Texas counties of Harris (Houston) and Dallas have by far the highest proportion of these commuters, representing over 13 percent of the total workforce in both counties. In addition, the number of super-commuters working in Harris County doubled between 2002 and 2009, while the number of workers commuting into the County from the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio regions tripled and doubled, respectively.

While the image of a highly paid executive may spring to mind, super-commuters are more likely to make less than $40,000 per year than the average worker and are more likely to be under 29 years old. Although a growing number of higher-income workers (over $40,000 per year) are also super commuting, these workers represent a declining share of total super-commuters.

As these workers make up an increasingly large percentage of the metropolitan workforce, megalopolitan regions encompassing cities that may be 200 miles apart, like the Texas Triangle, or even the California Corridor between northern California and Los Angeles, grow in importance. Improving coordination and transportation between these new “twin cities,” as well as technological advances that make remote work easier, will be increasingly important in the coming years as metropolitan regions grow larger and increasingly overlap with one another.