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Average U.S. Commute Time Keeps Increasing

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Average U.S. Commute Time Keeps Increasing
3 min. read
Average U.S. Commute Time Keeps Increasing

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Americans have steadily increased their commuting times over the years. In 2018 alone, the average commute time rose to 27 minutes one way.

New data from the American Community Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the average commuter spent two more minutes traveling to work one way in 2018 than they did in 2009. That means that the average commuter spends 20 minutes more each week commuting compared to a decade ago, for a total of 17 extra hours commuting per year.

Since 1980, the time spent traveling to work has increased by one hour a week or one full-time workweek over the course of a year. In 2018, the typical commuter was on the road for 225 hours, which is around nine full calendar days.

Factors Behind the Rise of Commute Time

One of the main culprits behind this change is an increase in the number of workers who have longer commute times. In 2010, 8% of workers commuted 60 minutes or more; in 2019, it was almost 10%. The number of workers with a commute time of more than 90 minutes also jumped – from 3.3 million workers in 2010 to 4.3 million in 2018.

Transit and infrastructure are shifting commute times, as well. Despite growing populations, necessary adjustments to roads, bridges and public transit are often postponed. This, in turn, creates congestion as people cram highways and subways to get to work.

Another factor behind the rising commute time is the housing shortage. According to Bloomberg, instead of a housing burst leading to oversupply, there are not enough houses being built.

A tight supply prompted housing prices to climb slowly, complicating the process of buying a home in the U.S. real estate market for some Americans. Unfortunately, in certain cities, purchasing a house is simply out of reach. So, in these areas, people often choose to rent, live with their parents or move to other areas – instead of taking the leap into homeownership.

Housing Prices Push Millennials to Choose Longer Commutes

Buying a house as a millennial is a bumpy ride. First-time homebuyers will pay 39% more than Baby Boomers did when they purchased their homes in the 1980s. Compared to the rest of the population, housing is also more out of reach for millennials as their incomes are likely lower due to lack of experience.

Prompted by high prices, millennials prefer traveling longer to get to work, which helps them buy a home they can afford. According to Laura Kusisto for Business Insider:

“In recent years, millennials have driven demand for rental apartments in downtown areas. Some in the industry thought this could be a permanent phenomenon. And yet, as they begin to marry and have children, millennials are proving like generations before them that they are willing to move to more affordable outlying areas.”

Kusisto believes rising mortgage rates and home prices – especially in the city cores – are causing homebuyers to travel until they can afford a home. Many millennials are even buying homes in the exurbs, which are properties that are an average of 16 miles from central business districts.

Telecommuting Gains Popularity

For workers, longer commuting times are not beneficial. In fact, they’re linked to less active time and even health issues, according to SFGATE. The cost of being stuck in traffic also amounts to $166 billion a year, which includes the lost time and increased fuel costs.

On the other hand, the latest Census data shows a growing number of Americans are choosing to work from home and cut their commutes altogether. In 2018, more than 5% of the workforce telecommuted, a share that has risen quickly over the last decade. Telecommuting is also gaining popularity as the third-most common means of commuting in the U.S., surpassing public transportation.

With a housing shortage and out-of-reach home prices, we’ll likely witness more workers beginning to work remotely and experiment with this new trend.

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