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Traveling to make a living

American workers are facing a longer work day, not in terms of hours spent on the clock, but hours spent getting to and from work.

According to a new report released by the Census Bureau, 600,000 American workers travel at least 90 minutes and 50 miles or more to get to work, and 10.8 million travel at least an hour each way.

The average one-way daily commute for workers across the country is 25.5 minutes, and one in four commuters leave their county to work.  The percentage of workers who have to leave their home county is growing. About 27.4 percent of all U.S. workers traveled outside the county where they live for work during a typical week, compared with 26.7 percent in 2000.  

Two types of counties are found to dominate the list of counties with the highest percentage of workers commuting outside the county where they live. Small counties with few businesses can be found, as can counties near to metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C. In Manassas Park, Va. 91.2 percent of the residents travel out of their county to work.

When you’re talking raw numbers instead of percentages, three counties in the New York City metropolitan area had the highest number of commuters leaving the county for work. They include workers living in Kings County (Brooklyn), Queens County (Queens) and Bronx County (The Bronx) traveling to New York County (Manhattan) for work.  

According to the report, which looked at commuting patterns from 2006-10, Bureau County had 16,374 workers. Of those workers, more than one in three, or 39 percent — higher than the national average — left the county for work.

Neighboring counties drew most of the driving workers. LaSalle County took the largest share with 3,867 making the commute. Following that, 391 drove to Putnam County, 373 to Henry County, 311 to Whiteside County and 311 to Lee County.

The Census Bureau report also examined workers who commute across state lines. In five states and the District of Columbia, one in 10 workers lived in a different state, including Delaware (14.8 percent), Rhode Island (12.8 percent), New Hampshire (10.8 percent) and West Virginia (10.0 percent).

That percentage was much lower for Bureau County, perhaps due to its location in the center of the state. Only 166 workers reported leaving the state to work, or just more than 1 percent. Michigan drew the greatest numbers, with 52, followed by Iowa with 33.

Nationally, 8.1 percent of U.S. workers have “megacommutes” of at least 90 minutes and 50 miles. Of those, 23.0 percent of workers used public transit, compared with 5.3 percent for all workers. Only 61.1 percent of workers with long commutes drove to work alone, compared with 79.9 percent for all workers who worked outside the home. Workers who live in New York state show the highest rate of long commutes at 16.2 percent, followed by Maryland and New Jersey at 14.8 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.

Megacommuters were more likely to be male, older, married, make a higher salary, and have a spouse who does not work. Of the total mega commutes, 75.4 percent were male and 24.6 percent women. Mega commuters were also more likely to depart for work before 6 a.m. Metro areas with large populations tend to attract large flows of mega commuters.  

These figures come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, which provides local statistics on a variety of topics for even the smallest communities.

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