Fewer NC Workers Live and Work in the Same County

Monday, August 31, 2015

The number of North Carolinians who live and work in the same county has dropped significantly since 2003, according to the latest data from OnTheMap, a mapping and reporting application on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website that shows the relationship between where workers are employed and where they live.

However, the 2013 data1 for Private Primary Jobs suggests this trend may have started to level off since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009.

From 2003 to 2013, 14 counties have had at least 50 percent of their residents live and work in the same county (see graph below). These counties tend to have the largest labor forces. Onslow County (in the Jacksonville Metropolitan Statistical Area [MSA]), with a labor force of 65,208 in June 2015, is an exception. The county slipped below 50 percent in 2011 where it remains after fluctuating above and below 50 percent since 2009. These movements, however, may be more of a result of activities related to the U.S. Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune than to changes in the state or regional economy.

Geography and transportation corridors clearly play a part in commuting patterns. New Hanover County, located in the Southeast, and Buncombe County in the West, have been near or at the top of counties with the greatest share of residents who commute within their county. Natural barriers, such as mountain and water, limit commuting options in these regions. As a result, the largest regional employment centers attract a large number of workers from the less populated counties that surround them. This is true for Dare County in the East. While they have the second-smallest labor force of the 14 counties and are not part of an MSA, they provide more job opportunities than their neighbors.

Commuting is a local-level phenomenon driven by other factors such as financial resources, housing, and transportation costs. Perhaps technological changes will also influence our thinking about commuting as working from home and more attractive public transportation options become available. The convenience and flexibility of automobile transportation, along with the current transportation infrastructure, greatly influences personal decisions. As urban areas become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly and local leaders invest in mass-transit systems, the predominance of automobile travel may decrease. Until then, the automobile remains the dominant commuting mode among the nation’s workers.

OnTheMap is supported by the Employment and Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, and administered by the U.S. Census Bureau. It also uses data collected by various states from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages report, a Bureau of Labor Statistics program. This partnership between federal and state entities, the Local Employment Dynamics Partnership, currently includes all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, although data for the state of Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still pending. Data are available from 2002 to 2013 for most geographies.


1 The latest data available. The 2014 numbers are scheduled to be released in December 2015 and will help to further understand what’s happening with commuters.