Education and commute time drive remote work, data confirms
Analysts are enjoying crunching official census results published by the US government that back up hunches about remote working with hard facts about population figures and working habits.
Bipartisan public policy organisation, the Economic Innovation Group, used the release of 2021 American Community Survey to undertake a detailed look at the “geographic distribution of remote work and its apparent drivers.”
Not surprisingly, EIG researchers found data show that the “remote work share has tripled from 5.6% in 2019 to 17.9% in 2021 at the national level”.
Time spent travelling to work was clearly a major factor reflected in cities where remote work has been more prevalent. Commuting zones in which a large share of workers had long commute times in 2019, EIG said, also showed a lot of remote working in 2021.
Education was the other major factor leading to a higher proportion of remote working. EIG’s study found that “having more college-educated workers is positively associated with remote work shares. This likely reflects occupation sorting by education in which skilled workers take technology-intensive jobs that can be done remotely while less-educated workers take jobs that require more physical proximity.”
Indeed, a 10 percentage point increase in a commuting zone’s share of college graduates roughly led to a 6.3 percentage point increase in the share of people working from home.
The EIG said that the winners were not all on the East and West coasts: “What we can say is that within the United States there has been significant variation in the extent to which populations have benefitted from remote work. Importantly, while remote work is concentrated along the coasts, we do see that there are places in every region and places outside of superstar cities with high levels of remote work. It should not be considered entirely a coast or superstar city phenomenon.”
Meanwhile, a separate study by real estate adviser CBRE, examined cities for signs of population growth that could support theories of relocation due to the pandemic.
CBRE compared population growth between two five-year periods, 2010-2015 and 2016-2021, measuring shifts across counties. The results emphasise the acceleration or slowing of growth, highlighting markets that have gained the most momentum, not necessarily those that have grown the most overall.
CBRE stated: “Among the metros that, in aggregate, have shown the most growth momentum from 2010 to 2015 and 2016 to 2021, many have recently garnered reputations as booming housing and labor markets (Boise, Huntsville, Knoxville, Provo, etc.).
“But the list also includes many former industrial hubs that struggled to maintain their populations as manufacturing jobs left in recent decades – Allentown, Buffalo, Cleveland, Dayton, Detroit, Scranton and Youngstown are among the top 25 metros (with populations greater than 500,000 residents) for positive regional momentum shift. In many cases, these markets turned population losses between 2010 and 2015 into modest gains between 2016 and 2021 – a remarkable net shift, especially compared to most other markets nationally.”