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Booming cities are fueling the rise of the super commuter

A strong economy without more urban housing means miserable commutes for millions of people. About one in 18 commuters (roughly 2 million people) are so-called “super commuters,” people who travel an average of about two hours per day. That compares to an average of 26 minutes nationwide.

Apartment List analyzed 2005 and 2016 U.S. Census data to find cities with the highest share of long distance commuters. The results show that most of these people live in communities feeding three very expensive metropolitan areas: San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Nearby metros had the largest share of super commuters, although the phenomenon was also apparent in places as diverse as El Paso, Texas and North Port, Florida.

The problem is not just for the wealthy. The rising cost of living in cities is pushing lower and middle-class workers further away from jobs with many using public transit to travel more than 150 miles per day. The cities of Stockton, Modesto, and Sacramento serve San Francisco; Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Allentown, Pennsylvania, are housing New York City’s workers and relatively affordable Riverside is now a bedroom community for Los Angeles.

That takes a heavy toll. A 2008 paper in the Scandanavian Journal of Economics found “that people with long journeys to and from work are systematically worse off and report significantly lower subjective well-being,” wrote researchers. “For many people, commuting seems to be a stress that doesn’t pay off.”

Two charts below show cities with the highest relative share of super commuters, and the largest increase of total commuters between 2005 and 2016.

 

 

Correction: One in 18 commuters is roughly equal to 2 million people, not one in 36 as previously stated.

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