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Did Everyone Work at Home during the Pandemic?

Did Everyone Work at Home during the Pandemic?

We all know that people were more likely to work at home during the pandemic, but how much more? Fortunately, the US Census Bureau recently released data for 2021, and that data shows that the portion of workers working at home in Hampton Roads more than doubled for 2021  as compared to the period before the pandemic. For the nine largest localities, 14% worked at home in 2021, compared to 5% in the 2016-2020 period.

Bar Chart depicting a comparison of workers working at home in Hampton Roads from before the pandemic and during the pandemic

(In addition to counting all persons every ten years, the Census Bureau continuously samples a portion of the population, asking a variety of questions including “How did this person usually get to work last week?”, with standard optional answers including “Worked from home”. Of the fifteen localities that are HRTPO members, 2021 data was released for only the nine largest.)

Why does the portion working from home vary by locality? Let’s examine working from home by industry using the 2021 Census data for the entire US.

Bar Chart depicting Working from Home by Industry (US)

Some industries—e.g. information, finance, real estate, scientific, and administrative services—are suited to working from home; whereas some industries—e.g. agriculture, construction, manufacturing, trucking, and health care—must largely be done on-site.

So, let’s examine how well the three “higher work-at-home industries” (black bars in above figure) explain work at home percentages for the nine Hampton Roads localities.

Bar chart depicting the Three Higher Work-at-Home Industrices in Hampton Roads by Jursidictions

As expected, those localities in Hampton Roads with higher percentage of workers in higher work-at-home industries tend to have higher percentages of working from home.
How did “working from home” in Hampton Roads compare to that of other Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs)? Hampton Roads’ working-from-home measure (14%) is less than that of the average of all 385 MSAs (19%), so let’s look for the reasons. First, as shown above, working-from-home is a function of industry mix. Secondly, we noticed lower numbers for southern metros, so we examined working-from-home by industry mix AND region below:

Table of numbers showing working from home” in Hampton Roads compare to that of other Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs)

Notice that the numbers for the South tend to be lower than those of other regions. Hampton Roads’ figure (14%) is near the average of the 32 southern MSAs with medium-high portion of workers in higher work-at-home industries (15%), as shown below.

Bar chart depicting Percentage of Workers working from home compared with that of 32 southern MSAs

Given the large increase in working at home, one might be tempted to think “everybody worked from home during the pandemic”, but let’s examine those who traveled to work.

Bar chart that shows the percentage work locations comparision of other MSA and Hampton Roads

In 2021, instead of working at home, most workers traveled to work. Considering all metros in the US, four out of five workers traveled to work. In Hampton Roads, six out of seven workers traveled to work.

Given that some workers continued to work at home even as the pandemic eased in 2022, it will be interesting to review the 2022 data (when available) to see the degree to which work location statistics revert to pre-pandemic levels.

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