Why Job Commutes Are Getting Longer, and Why It’s a Problem

The distance between people and jobs in metropolitan America is growing, and it’s having a detrimental impact on more than just workers’ commute times.

There is a growing distance between where Americans live and where jobs are located. That distance is costing workers, most obviously in the time and money spent on longer commutes, but also by decreasing opportunities for employment and upward social mobility, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution.

The report, which analyzes the increasing distance between people and jobs in metropolitan America, found that “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.”

Not only does having jobs close by increase your chance of being employed, it can also reduce periods of joblessness. Being employed doesn’t completely safeguard you against poverty, but it does lower your risk.

Nearby jobs are also important to lower-income individuals who sometimes have fewer housing and transportation options, Brookings explained.

In the past 10 years or so, the proximity to employment has grown faster near low-income Americans, both in cities and suburbs.

“Between 2000 and 2012, poverty grew and re-concentrated in parts of metropolitan areas that were farther from jobs, particularly in suburbs, which are now home to more than half of the poor residents of the country’s 100 largest metro areas,” Brookings said.

The growing distance between jobs and people also affects upward social mobility. Recent research revealed that where children grow up has a significant impact on their future earnings potential. For example:

… a child born at the 25th percentile of income in Seattle experienced a 12 percent earnings bump relative to the national average by age 26. In Atlanta, a child born into the same part of the income distribution earned 8 percent less than the national average as an adult. The researchers found that racial and income segregation, and long commute times, explained much of the difference in mobility across these and other areas.

If we want to provide an opportunity for upward social mobility for Americans, more efforts need to be focused at the local level. Brookings concluded: “Improving proximity to jobs alone certainly won’t tackle our social mobility challenges, but it can ameliorate problems like segregation, concentrated poverty, and low-density sprawl that pose real barriers to economic progress for low-income kids and families.”

Have you noticed a growing distance between people you know and their work? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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