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Regional Matters

February 13, 2020

Commuting Time in the Fifth District: Evidence from the American Community Survey

Since the December edition of 5th District Footprint on cross-county commuting, the Census Bureau released the 2014-2018 American Community Survey 5-year estimates. According to the updated estimates, 27.7 percent of individuals worked outside their county of residence in 2018, inching up from the previously reported 27.6 percent in 2017. This Regional Matters article extends the analysis from that 5th District Footprint issue by presenting data on commute times. This post also examines differences in commute times for residents of rural and urban counties in the Fifth District.

The chart below shows that residents of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia take on commutes of 30+ minutes at a higher rate than the U.S. overall. In fact, the median commute time exceeds 30 minutes in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Only about a third of residents of South Carolina, West Virginia, and North Carolina take on commutes of 30+ minutes. Notably, residents of the District of Columbia have long commute times despite a relatively small percentage of residents who commute outside of D.C. for work. By contrast, in Virginia, over 50 percent of workers commute outside their county (or independent city) for work, but the median commute time is less than 30 minutes.

The 2014-2018 5-year estimates also contain data on commute times at the county level. Outside of the District of Columbia, are commutes of 30+ minutes to work most prevalent for residents in rural or urban counties? The chart reveals that 30+ minute commutes tend be more common in urban counties within each state than in rural counties. Maryland and Virginia, which have relatively high rates of 30+ minute commute times (as shown in the previous chart), have the largest shares of urban counties with long commute times. Still, nearly 20 percent of rural counties in Virginia have a median commute time of 30+ minutes. Two Virginia rural counties — Surry and Cumberland — and one West Virginia rural county — Clay — have average commute times that rank in the top five longest of all Fifth District counties (greater than 41 minutes). Across all states, the counties with median commute times of 30+ minutes tend to have a majority of workers commuting outside the county for work.

Note: County-level urban and rural designations are based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2013 Rural-Urban Continuum Codes (RUCC). Counties with an RUCC of one or two are urban, and counties with an RUCC of three through nine are rural. This delineation of urban and rural geographies was developed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and not by the USDA.

For a deeper discussion of commuting in the Fifth District, including for three of the District’s largest cities — Richmond, Va., Baltimore, Md., and Charlotte, N.C. — check out “Transportation and Commuting Patterns: A View from the Fifth District.”

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