NJ’s top counties for working from home – and how change may last
TRENTON – Between people working from home and commuters whose trips got shorter, New Jerseyans spent nearly 30% less time traveling to work each day in 2021, compared with 2019.
That’s an even more eye-opening way of looking at how the pandemic upended everyday working patterns in the state than the 13.5% decline in the average commute time – a statistic that mostly doesn’t account for the 350% boom in the number of people working from home.
The Census Bureau estimates that 22.1% of New Jerseyans with jobs, around 977,500, worked from home last year. That was up from around 217,400, or 4.9%, in 2019.
Work-from-home numbers in the state had been inching up even before the pandemic, said Tim Evans, research director for New Jersey Future. It had been growing by an average of around 8,000 a year.
“But then we get this unlooked-for experiment that illustrates, ‘Yeah, we could keep doing this,’” Evans said. “So, we got this quantum leap in the number of people working from home, and I think a lot of it is likely to stay there.”
Evans said employers have realized the same amount of work can be produced without everybody in the office every day.
“So why bother? Why waste a lot of people’s time and gas to have people come to the office if it wasn’t really gaining us anything?” Evans said.
Every county in the state saw an increase in the number of people working from home but there were a few general patterns in the counties at each end of the rankings.
What the numbers show
Decline in those NYC-bound: Far fewer workers commuted into New York, which takes a long time even from nearby counties on transit. The amount of time spent commuting to jobs in other states fell by 45%, nearly double the 23% decline in time spent commuting to jobs within New Jersey.
Comparing 2021 to 2019, the amount of time spent traveling to work was down 23% for people using cars, trucks and vans and 54% for public transportation - including 66% for commuter rail. The amount of time spent on public transportation plunged 62% in Bergen County.
️️️ Central Jersey and I-287: Fewer people were heading into the office parks along Interstate 287 for their white-collar jobs, as those are among the easiest to transition into working from home.
Overall, the biggest reductions in aggregate commuting time, one-third or more, occurred in Bergen, Mercer and Monmouth counties, followed by Hudson, Hunterdon, Morris and Somerset at 33% though not quite one-third.
Down the least in South Jersey: Service-sector jobs are less able to be done from home and are more dominant in the economy in South Jersey, including the Atlantic City casinos. Plus, Evans said, its roads are less congested, so reductions in traffic don’t matter as much as the distance that must be traveled.
The smallest reductions in aggregate commuting time, a drop of less than 20%, occurred in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Ocean and Salem counties.
How this could affect development
Evans said the work-from-home phenomenon could lead to land-use changes along I-287, where municipalities are now considering whether to allow that land to instead be used for warehouses.
“Otherwise, those office parks were going to sit there mostly empty indefinitely because I don’t think a lot of this work-from-home is going to go away,” Evans said. “We’ve likely entered a new normal.”
“The warehousing people are looking for a lot of the same things that office parks were looking for in the ‘80s and ‘90s – easy highway access and not having to have people drive through neighborhoods to get to the workplace,” he said.
Towns could get ratables, and businesses could have desirable locations. And, conceivably, that would ease pressure to convert open space into warehouses.
⌚ Total time spent commuting
The Census Bureau estimates the aggregate amount of time people spend commuting each day, calculating that it came to 98,380,035 minutes on the roads and rails in 2021. That’s the equivalent of 1,639,667 hours’ worth of time each day for one-way commuting.
While that’s a staggering amount of time, travel time to work in 2019 came to around 139,069,755 minutes a day – equal 2,317,829 hours.
And so, New Jerseyans saved the combined equivalent of 678,162 hours each day commuting to work last year, compared with 2019. And then saved the same time at the end of their shift.
Here’s the county-by-county countdown of where New Jerseyans worked from home most in 2021, starting with where it was done least, and adding some detail about the overall drop in minutes devoted to commuting to work.
9.3% working from home | 8.9% reduction in total time spent commuting
11.4% working from home | 11.4% reduction in total time spent commuting
Cape May County
13.1% working from home | 13.1% reduction in total time spent commuting
14% working from home | 14% reduction in total time spent commuting
14.1% working from home | 14.1% reduction in total time spent commuting
14.6% working from home | 14.6% reduction in total time spent commuting
15.6% working from home | 15.6% reduction in total time spent commuting
16.6% working from home | 16.6% reduction in total time spent commuting
17.9% working from home | 17.9% reduction in total time spent commuting
18.3% working from home | 18.3% reduction in total time spent commuting
19% working from home | 19% reduction in total time spent commuting
19.4% working from home | 19.4% reduction in total time spent commuting
22.3% working from home | 22.3% reduction in total time spent commuting
23.6% working from home | 23.6% reduction in total time spent commuting
24.8% working from home | 24.8% reduction in total time spent commuting
25.1% working from home | 25.1% reduction in total time spent commuting
28% working from home | 28% reduction in total time spent commuting
28.8% working from home | 28.8% reduction in total time spent commuting
28.9% working from home | 28.9% reduction in total time spent commuting
30.1% working from home | 30.1% reduction in total time spent commuting
31.4% working from home | 31.4% reduction in total time spent commuting