Working from home tripled during pandemic

The number of workers who do their jobs from home nearly tripled during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, and millions of Americans still say they aren’t going into the office on a regular basis.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that about 27.6 million Americans who live in large cities punched the clock from home offices in 2021, up from about 9 million who reported working from home in 2019, before the pandemic began.

“Work and commuting are central to American life, so the widespread adoption of working from home is a defining feature of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Michael Burrows, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Journey-to-Work and Migration Statistics branch. “The pandemic has very strongly impacted the commuting landscape in the United States.”

The work-from-home phenomenon has taken about 15 million cars off the roads, the bureau’s data show. Still, about 104 million people last year reported driving to work alone.

The share of workers who commuted by public transit has dropped by half, to the lowest share ever recorded by the bureau’s American Community Survey — a decline that has precipitated budget crises for transportation systems across the country.

Working from home has taken hold more prominently in the largest metro areas. Today, 19 percent of those who live in metro areas work from home, up from 6 percent before the pandemic struck. In rural areas, working from home rose from 5 percent before the pandemic to 9 percent in 2021.

More than a third of workers reported staying home to do their jobs in Boulder, Colo., San Francisco, San Jose and the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. But those rates vary widely even within those metros: In Washington, 48 percent of workers said they worked from home, while rates are much lower in farther-out suburbs and exurbs.

The share of workers who changed their habits has been greatest in cities with large technology sectors. Nowhere adopted work-from-home more than the San Jose metro area, home to some of the world’s largest tech giants. The number of workers there who reported working from home grew more than five-fold between 2019 and 2021, when the surveys were conducted.

The popularity of working from home grew almost as much in Washington, Ann Arbor, the Trenton-Princeton metro area, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

Working from home is much rarer in some metros where manufacturing and farming are dominant industries. In Indiana, fewer than one in 10 workers stayed home in Fort Wayne, Evansville, Elkhart and Terre Haute. Workers in Modesto and Visalia, Calif.; Corpus Christi and Lubbock, Texas; and Dothan and Mobile, Ala., were also far more likely to go into an office than the typical American.