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Opinion

Where are the remote workers?

How do you get to work?

If you put on your slippers and walk to your balcony chair or kitchen table, congratulations on being part of the 17.9% of people who work from home, according to the Census Bureau’s latest data.

This is a far smaller share of the population than you might assume after reading the average magazine article on COVID-19 fears or return-to-work anxiety, but it also hides some massive variation geographically. In some parts of the country in 2021, 1 out of every 3 workers was at home. In much of the nation, the figure was just 1 out of every 20.

Adam Ozimek and Eric Carlson at the Economic Innovation Group compiled the numbers from the latest American Community Survey and mapped out what sorts of places had the most remote workers.

Beautiful countryside locations such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Petoskey, Michigan, didn’t lead the list (although their population growth over recent years is probably due to COVID-19 exiles). Instead, it was all urban places that had the most people working in their PJs.

In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, 33.6% work from home. San Francisco, San Jose, and Austin were the other top work-from-home markets. In general, bigger cities had more workers at home, whereas rural places had very few. State capitals tend to have pretty high shares, too.

Places with long commute times, unsurprisingly, also had more people working from home.

Areas with lots of computer programmers and financial analysts had the highest rates, and the researchers’ regression analyses suggested that the type of jobs in a place is a root cause of high work-from-home shares — "occupational composition” explains half of the difference in at-home workers across commuting zones. But if you control for education, most of that effect goes away.

So maybe highly educated people tend to work from home and also tend to be analysts and programmers, or maybe analysts and programmers tend to be highly educated and work from home.

Ten thousand predictions have come forth from a hundred experts as to what lasting effects the pandemic will have on work and commuting. As of 2021, the answer seems to be that urban elites are staying at home from 9 to 5, and the rest of the country is heading into the factory or the office.