Will COVID-19 Create More Supercommuters?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced most office workers to work from home for the past year and opened up new possibilities for how to think about the relationship between work and home — and the commute between them.

Before the pandemic, more than 3 million Americans spent more than 90 minutes commuting from home to work each day, making them a group that’s come to be known as “supercommuters.” When remote work began last year, some of those workers realized that they could use the pandemic as an opportunity to relocate to a new city or town that they’d always wanted to live in but couldn’t because it was too far away from their job. 

At the same time, people close to their offices in urban areas found themselves craving more space to live and work, which fueled a boom in people moving to suburbs and away from overpopulated areas like San Francisco to smaller cities like Denver, Boise, and Salt Lake City. 

As people moved farther away from their offices, their preferences for how to commute began to change. A survey of 1,000 commuters conducted by Kittleson & Associates found that 46% of workers would prefer to work from home at least 2-3 days per week, while 51% of employers were willing to consider permanent work-from-home arrangements. 

Taken together, these factors create the potential for more extreme supercommuters who live in a different city, or even a different state, than where they work and make the trip into the office a week or a few times per month. 

Stephen Eide, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, notes that public transit agencies should be worried about these changes because it will mean fewer riders in the long term and government stimulus money will eventually run out. The Kittleson & Associates survey found that only 11% of commuters planned to use public transit when they return to the office, compared to 20% before the pandemic. 

Eide’s piece in The American Conservative also notes that supercommuters could change the country’s civic engagement landscape as people settle into places that are not necessarily tied to where they work. With less time spent commuting, Eide argues that people will have more time to volunteer and become involved in the organizations that make up our social fabric.

“If teleworking former urbanites attach themselves, civically, to their new communities as much as social capital advocates hope, that must mean their attachments to the city itself will weaken,” Eide wrote. 

With COVID-19 vaccine rollout going slowly, it looks like the work from home period will continue for at least a few more months, and the effects of the new supercommuters won’t be fully seen until later this year or even early 2022.

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image Credit: Photo Bybas Emmen on Unsplash

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