NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Longer Work Commutes Affect the Economy

March 26, 2015

The commute to work is getting longer for most Americans, which takes a particular toll on minority populations. Proximity to employment can influence a range of economic and social outcomes, from local fiscal health to the employment prospects of residents, particularly low-income and minority workers. 

An analysis of private-sector employment and demographic data at the census tract level reveals that:

  • Between 2000 and 2012, the number of jobs within the typical commute distance for residents in a major metro area fell by 7 percent. The number of jobs increased in only 29 of the nation's 96 largest metro areas.
  • As employment suburbanized, the number of jobs near both the typical city and suburban resident fell.
  • As poor and minority residents shifted toward suburbs in the 2000s, their proximity to jobs fell more than for non-poor and white residents. The number of jobs near the typical Hispanic (-17 percent) and black (-14 percent) resident in major metro areas declined much more steeply than for white (-6 percent) residents, a pattern repeated for the typical poor (-17 percent) versus non-poor (-6 percent) resident.
  • Residents of high-poverty and majority-minority neighborhoods experienced particularly pronounced declines in job proximity.

For local and regional leaders working to grow their economies in ways that promote opportunity and upward mobility for all residents, these findings underscore the importance of understand­ing how regional economic and demographic trends intersect at the local level to shape access to employment opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged populations and neighborhoods.

Source: Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes, "The Growing Distance between People and Jobs in Metropolitan America," Brookings Institution, March 2015.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues