Long commuting times have contributed to New Jersey having a larger share of people working from home than almost any other state, experts say. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
The number of New Jerseyans working from home last year more than quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels, leaving the Garden State with a greater share of people working from home than 43 states, according to new census estimates.
In 2021, 22% of New Jersey workers ages 16 and older worked remotely, compared to just 5% in 2019, when the Census Bureau last released comparable American Community Survey estimates.
More residents worked remotely only in Maryland, Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington, which led the pack with 24% of its residents telecommuting.
The Census Bureau said the share of people working from home in 2021 was the highest in the American Community Survey’s 17-year history.
At the same time, public transportation use plummeted in New Jersey. It nearly halved from 2019 levels, falling from 12% in 2019 to 6% in 2021.
The share of New Jerseyans commuting to work by car also dropped. That number was 67% in 2021, down from 79% in 2019.
A confluence of factors is likely responsible for the broad uptake of telecommuting in New Jersey — even after pandemic shutdowns forced immediate changes to work in 2020 — though long commute times, the proximity of New York City, and the highly professional nature of the state’s workforce could be largely responsible for the continued popularity of working from home, said Jim Hughes, dean emeritus of Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
“We probably have a higher proportion than average in terms of professional and business services, communications and the like, and that’s where you have the highest work from home. If you’re in retail, if you’re working in a fulfillment center — warehouse distribution and the like — you have to be there,” he said. “If you’re a plumber, you can’t work from home.”
The more educated a state is, the more likely it is to have workers in professionalized fields that can more easily accommodate telecommutes.
New Jersey is third among states for educational attainment, and 41% of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to American Community Survey data released in February. The only states with higher education attainment than New Jersey — Massachusetts (45%) and Colorado (43%) — also had more residents working from home last year than New Jersey.
This also means New Jersey cities where white-collar work is less prevalent, like Camden or Paterson, have fewer residents working from home.
Long commute times can also be a driver.
At 38 minutes, the New-York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area had the longest travel time to work in the nation in 2019, according to a Census Bureau report released in March. The national average was just 25 minutes.
The proximity of New York City and the harrowing commutes of New Jerseyans who work there likely play an especially important role, Hughes said.
“We have 400,000 people commuting into New York City, and most of those New York City commutes are very, very long and usually multi-mode too — drive to the station, get on the train, and then get on the subway once you get into New York,” he said, adding, “We can have much better lives using those two hours a day to take care of family and other activities that you used to have to devote your weekend to.”
The number of residents who work in New York City and, to a lesser degree, Philadelphia has also contributed to the rise in telecommuting. Those cities saw office occupancy plummet during the early months of the pandemic, and employers’ struggles to bring them back into the office have met scant success.
On the week beginning Sept 7, office occupancy in New York City was just 38%, according to Kastle Systems, a security firm that tracks workplace occupancy in major U.S. cities. In Philadelphia, it was just 37%. Occupancy in both cities hovered around 95% pre-pandemic.
It’s not yet clear how work-from-home trends will change as the country continues to move past the COVID-19 crisis. Though Hughes predicted some form of hybrid workplace would become more prevalent in the coming years, with fully-remote work a relative rarity, he cautioned it is still too early to be certain.
But a full return to offices appears to be out of the cards.
“When we look at office markets pre-pandemic — 2019, January and February of 2020 — they were really relics of the 20th Century and the way work was viewed. Essentially, we just got into a habit,” Hughes said, adding, “Now going to work in many cases is not going to a place. It’s you get up, and you start working in one form or another.”
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