Work Local or Commute? Job Diversity, Wages, Housing Prices Are Motivating Factors

by Shawna Sykes

February 11, 2020

Living close to your workplace seems to offer a variety of benefits to your quality of life – less time commuting (which provides more time for your social or private life and reduces stress), less money spent on transportation costs (more disposable income), and greater ties to your local community. With fewer cars on the road, roads need less maintenance, there are potentially fewer accidents, and pollution is reduced, all contributing to a healthier environment. In addition, a shorter commute can lead to better mental health which can increase productivity at work, an improved work/life balance, more time for exercise, sleep, and meal prep at home which could all lead to you being healthier. Sounds pretty good, right?
So, why would anyone want to commute long distances to work? Well, some areas don’t have enough jobs, or a wide diversity of jobs for all of the residents who are in the workforce. This is the case in Columbia County where there were over 23,000 people in the workforce and less than 11,000 jobs in the county according to the latest Census Local Employment Dynamics data. More than 73 percent of residents commute outside the county for work, mostly to the Portland Metro area.

Some counties within Northwest Oregon seem to be more successful at providing job options to local residents. In Clatsop County, 60 percent of residents live and work within the county. Tillamook and Lincoln counties are close behind with 58 and 57 percent of residents working locally, while only 53 percent of Benton County residents work within Benton County.
Larger cities tend to have more job diversity than rural areas and wages tend to be higher. In many NW Oregon counties, two-thirds or more of the jobs are not high-wage jobs. This encourages workers to leave their local area seeking higher-wage employment.

Another motivation for living farther away from work is the high cost of housing in certain areas. According to Zillow.com, the median price of current home listings in Benton County was the highest of the NW Oregon counties at $389,900 while neighboring Linn County was $275,000, so a short commute could make a big difference in monthly living expenses. A similar case can be made in Clatsop County where the median listing price was $389,500. Those willing to commute the short trip across the Columbia River from Pacific County, Washington, can find homes at the median listing price of $215,000.
In the end, workers have to evaluate for themselves whether it makes economic sense to live and work locally, or join the many who commute long distances to work each day.


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