People Are Commuting Longer And Longer, Because The Jobs All Moved Far Away

This is bad news for everyone, but especially for minorities and the poor.

People Are Commuting Longer And Longer, Because The Jobs All Moved Far Away
[Top Photo: Aaron Kohr via Shutterstock]

People in major metropolitan areas are increasingly living far from their jobs. The problem is especially severe for minorities and the poor. This is more than just an inconvenience–it’s a growing economic and health threat.


A recent report from the Brookings Institution lays out the facts. In the years between 2000 and 2012, the number of jobs within normal commute distance of people living in metro areas dropped 7%.

The steepest declines in job proximity happened in poor neighborhoods and areas with mostly minority populations. More and more, these types of neighborhoods are suburban. But the well-off aren’t immune to to the trend; suburban residents overall experienced a bigger decline overall in the number of jobs in typical commuting distance (7%) compared to city residents (3%).

These trends aren’t because of the population influx into cities that we always hear so much about. They’re happening because of the suburbanization of jobs, the poor, and minorities. As authors Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes explain in the report, jobs started pushing out into the suburbs in the early 2000s as the American economy declined. Once the jobs started moving to the suburbs, so did the people–especially minorities and the poor.

The authors write:

Where people and jobs locate within metro areas over time affects how close they are to one another. The outward shift of both people and jobs in the 2000s changed their proximity to each other, and often not for the better.

Since jobs tend to cluster more closely together in urban areas, people who live in cities are often closer to their jobs than people in suburbs, even if their jobs are also in the suburbs.

Overall, the average citygoer lives near nearly three times as many jobs as the typical suburbanite. And between 2000 and 2012, the number of suburban jobs increased by 4%. City jobs declined by 2%.

Flickr user Michael R Perry

The implications of this are manyfold. First, there are the obvious economic ramifications of living far from work. In general, people who live close to job opportunities are more likely to have a job, have fewer incidences of joblessness, and deal with shorter job searches, according to the report. Distance from jobs matters the most to the poor, who are hit harder by housing and commuting costs.

Long commute times can also have negative effects on health. A study from 2014 found that every 10 minutes of extra commute time in a car cuts down on psychological wellness. An earlier study discovered that people who walk to work are 40% less likely to have diabetes and 17% less likely to have high blood pressure than people who drive.

There’s no easy solution here–better regional planning will make all the difference.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.