Have Job, Will Travel – Commuting for Work

by Erik Knoder

February 11, 2020

Commuting out of one’s county of residence has increased so much in recent years that for some counties more of their workers’ jobs are being created out of the county than in. Most of us commute at least some distance to work. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2018 Oregonians commuted to work about 24 minutes on average. But, of course, some people have longer commutes; about 13 percent of us traveled 45 minutes or more to work. It is likely that many in this group commute out of their own county for work.

In 2007, Oregon’s counties averaged about 40 percent of their private-sector payroll workers either commuting to jobs out of the county or having their paychecks processed out of their county. (The data are based on where payroll is processed.) By 2017, this share had increased to 45 percent. This increase in working in another county occurred as Oregon’s counties were also recovering, to a greater or lesser degree, from the Great Recession. The result was that for 15 counties the job gains for commuting residents amounted to more than the number of local jobs added for residents. In other words, for these counties the net job growth for their residents occurred outside the county. Again, this count of commuting includes physical commuting out of the county as well as telecommuting and working for small local branches where payroll is processed outside the county.

The table below shows Oregon counties and the difference from 2007 to 2017 between gains in local jobs and commuting jobs for their residents. Only their primary, private-sector jobs are included in this calculation of Census Bureau estimates. Oregon as a whole generated 116,874 more jobs in the state than those gained by residents who commuted out of the state to work. We generally think of this as the normal state of affairs; the number of working residents in an area grows over time and only a smallish share of them work outside the area since people try to live fairly close to where they work. In Klamath County, this situation was reversed. From 2007 to 2017, county residents gained 2,029 more jobs by commuting out of Klamath County than were gained in the county. Klamath County actually took a double hit over this period. The gross number of working residents declined over the 10 years and the gross number of people who had to commute out for work increased.
Douglas County residents also had their job gains come by commuting. The county managed a gain of 277 in its number of working residents over 10 years, but again all those gains and then some came by commuting. Douglas County had an increase of 1,892 residents who commuted out to work from 2007 to 2017. The difference between these numbers means 1,615 residents shifted from working in the county to commuting out of the county for their primary job.

The 15 counties with positive numbers in the middle column at the top of the table are all the counties that gained more commuting jobs than local jobs from 2007 to 2017. These counties also tend to have a loss of total jobs or anemic job growth over those 10 years, as noted in the right-hand column. This column is a measure of all (government and private) payroll jobs covered by Oregon’s unemployment insurance program. This relationship simply supports the idea that people will travel to get work. If their own county isn’t generating jobs, people will commute out to get them.


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