Recent Cross County Commuting Patterns

Monday, January 6, 2020
Author: 
Jeff Rosenthal

As we come off long distance car trips for the holidays, we want to share some information regarding our sometimes long distance trips for commuting. In years past, we’ve

This year, we’d like to give an updated analysis of cross-county commuting using the most recent LODES data released at the end of August, as well as examine this issue based on types of labor markets.

What are the latest trends in commuting times for North Carolina?

Since our last analysis using 2016 ACS data, our average commute in North Carolina has increased in average time from 24.4 minutes in 2016 to 24.8 minutes in 2018. This is even with the significant increase in workers who work at home from 249,964 in 2016 to 292,946 in 2018. Please keep in mind that the differences in these measures between 2017 and 2018 are not statistically significant, meaning that most of these changes really occurred between 2016 and 2017.

Our mean commute times by county have not changed too much since our last analysis- largely because the latest 5-year data available (2014-2018) shares 3 years with the previous analysis (2012-2016). These still show longer commutes in the Northeast corner of the state likely associated with commuting to the Virginia Beach area.

General Cross-County Commuting Patterns

We’ve had a tradition of examining whether a majority (50% or more) of residents live and work in their home county (among those that have private primary jobs), and we found that this had dropped from 47 counties in 2003 down to 15 in 2011, 14 in 2013, and 17 in 2015. As a refresher, the 17 counties from 2015 that had over half of their residents with private primary jobs work in their county were:

  • Buncombe
  • Carteret
  • Catawba
  • Craven
  • Cumberland
  • Dare
  • Durham
  • Forsyth
  • Guilford
  • Macon
  • Mecklenburg
  • Moore
  • New Hanover
  • Onslow
  • Pitt
  • Wake
  • Watauga
     

The counties in bold above were added to the list from 2013 to 2015.

What do the numbers look like for the new 2017 data, which can also be found using the Census Bureau’s OnTheMap application? Much like 2013 in number (14), and content (no new counties from the previous list in 2015).

The counties below are the ones that make the list for 2017:

  • Buncombe
  • Catawba
  • Cumberland
  • Dare
  • Durham
  • Forsyth
  • Guilford
  • Macon
  • Mecklenburg
  • Moore
  • New Hanover
  • Pitt
  • Wake
  • Watauga
   

Labor Market Distinctions

Our previous Employer Needs Survey from 2018 (data is currently being collected for the 2020 version!!!) analyzed labor markets by 4 different sizes- from Large labor markets like Charlotte and the Triangle to Medium labor markets which are other Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Micropolitan Statistical Areas, and Rural Counties. We’ve found that much like the rest of the United States, the post-recession recovery in large urban areas was more robust than the recovery in rural areas. But do people that live in these large labor markets have different commuting patterns than those from more rural places?

Using the 2017 LODES data, we examined the commuting status of people who both lived and worked in North Carolina. We considered workers in their primary jobs within the four different labor market sizes, and found some pretty interesting results:

A. While residents of labor markets are most likely to work in their particular sized regions, the strength of this association declines for residents in Micropolitan and Rural counties.

The following table shows the percentages of residents working in particular sized labor markets:

Lives in... Works in... Large Medium Micropolitan Rural
Large 85.7% 9.7% 3.9% 0.7%
Medium 16.4% 74.9% 6.6% 2.1%
Micropolitan 23.0% 21.1% 51.4% 4.6%
Rural 16.6% 24.4% 14.5% 44.4%

B.    Just under half of workers statewide live and work in the same county.

47.7% of workers statewide work in the same county they live in. This varies by size of labor market: 51.4% of worker residents in Large labor markets work in their home county while 48.0% of worker residents in Medium labor markets work in their home county. The figures are lower for Micropolitan labor markets (40.8%), and in Rural Counties (35.4%).

C.    If worker residents report to work outside their home county, they are more often reporting to a larger sized labor market.

The below table shows the percentages of resident workers that work in different counties than they live in:

Lives in... Works in... Large Medium Micropolitan Rural
Large 70.6% 20.0% 8.0% 1.4%
Medium 31.5% 51.7% 12.6% 4.1%
Micropolitan 38.8% 35.6% 17.8% 7.8%
Rural 25.8% 37.8% 22.5% 14.0%

This particular table reinforces that resident workers from rural and micropolitan areas will very often commute to Large and Medium labor markets for work.

Taken together, workers in Rural and Micropolitan areas are not only more likely to work in a different county than their residence, but they are also more likely to drive to larger labor markets to work. This process does not work in reverse - resident workers living in larger labor markets generally do not report to work in smaller labor markets. This makes sense given the relative strength of the economy has been better for larger labor markets than smaller labor markets, particularly in the wake of the Great Recession where the economies of larger labor markets recovered quicker than in Micropolitan or Rural labor markets.  

How may this work with greater detail of industrial growth and the types of work? Next month, we will explore this with a follow-up article.  Stay tuned! Until then, I wish you safe travels on your increasingly longer commutes!