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5th District Footprint

December 2019

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To better understand the commutes of individuals living in the Fifth Federal Reserve District, this issue of 5th District Footprint asks: What percentage of Fifth District residents travel outside their county of residence for work?

Cross-County Commuting in the Fifth District

The average American spends just under an hour commuting to and from work every day. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the mean one-way commuting time in 2018 was 27.1 minutes and this figure has steadily increased year-over-year since 2010.1 Commute times are shaped by a variety of factors of course, including decisions about where to live and work, available modes of transportation, and traffic patterns. To better understand the commutes of individuals living in the Fifth Federal Reserve District, this issue of 5th District Footprint asks: What percentage of Fifth District residents travel outside their county of residence for work?

Transportation infrastructure represents a significant cost for federal, state and local governments — in 2017, public investment on transportation infrastructure totaled $299 billion.2 When state and local policymakers engage in conversations about regional infrastructure coordination and investment, it is critical to understand cross-county and cross-state commuting flows.

In the U.S., it is more common to work in your county of residence than out.3 But living and working in the same place is not a reality for 27.6 percent of workers. In 2017, 43 million individuals commuted outside their county of residence and 6 million of these individuals lived in the Fifth District.4 Maryland is the Fifth District state that has the highest percentage of residents who commute outside of the state for work (17.0 percent) while North Carolina has the lowest (2.6 percent). In terms of county-level commuting flows, almost half of Virginia residents work outside their home county (51.2 percent) — the highest among Fifth District states.

Within Fifth District counties, the percentage of workers who commute to another county for work ranges from 8.7 percent in Horry County, South Carolina, to 90.7 percent in the city of Manassas Park, Virginia. The map below shows this county-level variation. The map also illustrates regional commuting patterns, similar to those discussed in “Transportation and Commuting Patterns: A View from the Fifth District.” For example, Manassas Park, Virginia, is an independent city with just over 41,000 total residents that borders the city of Manassas and Prince William County, Virginia. Residents are presumably employed in counties throughout Northern Virginia and in the District of Columbia. Similarly, 84.7 percent of workers in rural Camden County, North Carolina, work outside the county — Camden County borders Virginia and is in close proximity to the Hampton Roads, Virginia, metropolitan statistical area, which includes Hampton Roads, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

Note: This map captures individuals who travel outside of their county of residence for work, including commutes outside the worker's state of residence. Workers include members of the Armed Forces and civilians 16 years and over who were at work the week before the American Community Survey was deployed.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates 2013-2017, Table B08007.

Interactive Map: User Tips

  • Refresh your page if you see any irregularities with the map’s size, legend or shading.
  • When you select “Download map” from the map’s dropdown menu, a PDF version of the full map will open in a new tab.
  • When you select “Download CSV” or “Download XLS” from the map’s dropdown menu, the file will contain the same data fields for both maps.
  • In some instances, zooming in on a county will reveal gaps in county boundaries. These gaps are the result of spatial conversion and do not indicate missing county data.

If you have feedback about your experience with this interactive map, please send comments to Emily Corcoran.

In terms of state-to-state commuting flows, all counties with the highest percentages of workers commuting outside the state border other states. These include Jefferson County, West Virginia, which borders Maryland and Virginia; Gates County, North Carolina, which borders Virginia; and Scott County, Virginia, which borders Tennessee and is an hour drive from Kentucky.5

At the individual level, deciding where to work and where to live reflects individual preferences and constraints. These constraints can be a particularly critical consideration for individuals who are more economically vulnerable. Low- and moderate-income (LMI) workers may live far away from locations with an abundance of jobs. In addition, LMI workers have fewer transportation options in general and are more likely to rely on public transit than higher-income workers.6 This can put an additional cost on individuals who are already resource-constrained, as the average one-way public transit commute is almost 50 minutes.7 Further examination of the commuting experience of individuals across income brackets and within specific communities would provide a deeper understanding of overall commuting flows.

 
1

In 2010, the mean travel time to work in the U.S. was 25.3 minutes. U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table S0801, 2010-2018.

2

Public Spending on Transportation and Water Infrastructure, 1956 to 2017.” Congressional Budget Office, October 2018.

3

U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates 2013-2017, Table S0801.

4

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37,286,976 worked in a different county within their home state and 5,730,214 worked in a different state. U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates 2013-2017, Table B08007.

5

The percentage of workers commuting outside the state in Jefferson County, West Virginia, Gates County, North Carolina, and Scott County, Virginia, is 48.0 percent, 50.5 percent and 51.2 percent, respectively.

6

Low income is defined as less than 50 percent of the area Median Family Income (MFI) and moderate income is 50 to 80 percent of the area MFI.

7

U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates 2013-2017, Table S0801.

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