(June 2002) According to the latest census figures, lengthy commutes — and the issues associated with them — are not going away in the near future. Americans, on average, spent nearly 26 minutes commuting to their jobs in 2000, up from 22 minutes in 1990. Among the states, the commutes were longest for residents of New York (nearly 32 minutes), with workers in Maryland, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia experiencing similar delays. By contrast, North Dakotans needed the least amount of time to get to work (just under 16 minutes).

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As one might expect, there was even greater variation below the state level. For example, workers commuted at least 30 minutes in 406 of the nation’s 3,141 counties and county equivalents (see map). Residents of Elliott County in eastern Kentucky (which borders the Huntington, W.Va.-Ashland, Ky. metropolitan area) had the longest commutes, with an average of nearly 49 minutes. In fact, many of the counties whose residents spent the most time commuting were either at the edges of or adjacent to metropolitan areas (for example, Pike County, Pa.; Mathews County, Va.; and Calvert and Charles counties in Maryland). Interestingly, residents in four of the five counties that make up New York City — Richmond (Staten Island), Kings (Brooklyn), Bronx, and Queens — also had average commutes surpassing 40 minutes.

Long commutes also were common in some of our largest cities; the average commuting time was 30 minutes or more in 25 of the 245 cities with at least 100,000 persons in 2000. Residents of Palmdale, Calif. (in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles), and New York City had the longest commutes — 43 minutes and 40 minutes, respectively. In fact, seven of the 10 cities whose residents spent the most time going to work were in California.

Residents in rural areas — mostly in the West — tended to have the shortest commuting times (less than 15 minutes). In fact, workers in 11 boroughs in Alaska commuted an average of 10 minutes or less. In the rest of the country, only workers in Nantucket County, Mass., had average commutes that were that short.

More American Workers Drive Alone to Work

The 2000 census showed the continued importance of the automobile in the lives of American workers. Nearly 76 percent of Americans drove alone to their jobs, up from 73 percent in 1990. At least 80 percent of residents in 14 states drove to work alone, and between 70 percent and 80 percent in 33 others did the same. Moreover, at least 75 percent of workers drove alone in 2,168 of the country’s 3,141 counties.

Considering Detroit’s historic status as the center of the U.S. automobile industry, it probably is not surprising that Michigan residents, at a rate of 83 percent, were most likely to drive alone to work. Moreover, three cities in the Wolverine State — the Detroit-area suburbs of Sterling Heights, Livonia, and Warren — had the highest “drive alone” rates among cities with populations at least 100,000.

Most cities with the smallest shares of “drive alone” workers were either in the corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., or in the San Francisco Bay area. For example, just one-fourth of New York City residents drove alone, as did about two-fifths of Bostonians and Washingtonians. (In Manhattan — New York County, N.Y. — just 8 percent of workers drove alone to their jobs.) However, some isolated areas of Alaska also had a small share of workers who drove alone to work. For example, only 10 percent of workers in the state’s Northwest Arctic borough and 2 percent of those in the Wade Hampton census area drove alone to their jobs.

Less than 5 Percent Commute by Mass Transit

Slightly less than 5 percent of Americans commuted to work via public transportation in 2000, down from slightly more than 5 percent a decade earlier. In more than half the states, less than 2 percent of workers used mass transit. Generally, the states where mass transit was most popular were those with major metropolitan areas — New York (New York City), New Jersey (New York City and Philadelphia), Massachusetts (Boston), Illinois (Chicago), and Maryland (Washington, D.C., and Baltimore).

Public transportation was especially popular along the Boston-Washington corridor. More than half (53 percent) of New York City residents used mass transit, as did two-fifths of the residents of Jersey City, N.J., and one-third of the residents of Washington, D.C., and Boston. (New York City alone was home to 28 percent — 1.7 million — of the 6.1 million Americans commuting by public transportation.)

“Work at Home” Rate at 3 Percent, with Higher Concentrations in Rural Areas

The development of the Internet and the growth of “in-home” businesses have been credited with altering the routines of many American workers, making working at home an increasingly viable option. However, working for pay out of one’s home remains a rare phenomenon in the United States. Only 3 percent of American workers (4.2 million workers in all) worked at home in 2000. However, 800,000 more Americans worked at home in 2000 than in 1990, and there were pockets of the country where telecommuters and in-home workers made up a significant share of the working population. In 29 counties, for example, at least 20 percent of working residents worked at home in 2000; the “working at home” rate was between 10 percent and 20 percent in 158 others. Most of these counties were in sparsely populated rural areas.