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Should You Commute?
Photo: Jenny Erickson
Americans spend more time commuting to work each year than they do taking a vacation. That is what the latest data gathered by the Census Bureau shows.

The number of Americans spending 90 minutes or more commuting to work each day has nearly doubled in the last decade. About 9.4 million leave for work between 5 and 6 a.m. each morning. The average commute is 24 minutes each way.

The automobile is the key to all this going to and fro. Some 97 million Americans–up from 62 million 25 years ago–drive to work and back all alone in their cars. The number who carpool has actually dropped from 19 million to 16 million. Only 10 million walk or use mass transit. Consequently, the number of meals that American eat in the car while driving has more than doubled over the same period.

The cities with the largest numbers of long-distance commuters include Baltimore, New York, Newark, Riverside (Calif.), Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Miami. All of these are among America’s largest metropolitan areas.

Pressing Questions

With the current upsurge in gasoline prices, concerns about dependence on foreign oil and the out-of-control price of cars, one has to ask, Why do people do it? Is it worth all this commuting?

Better pay and benefits, better opportunities for career advancement, and the lack of work closer to home were the reasons most often cited in two recent studies in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC–by two-thirds of the commuters interviewed. Only 12% said they found their commute relaxing and only 8% claimed that the cost of living was lower where they lived, although 45% indicated that they already lived in their current home in the suburbs when they took their current job.

How much are you willing to give up in time and detachment from your family and neighbors in order to get ahead in your career and earnings? That is the real trade-off when people choose the commuter life. What do these choices reveal about suburban values?

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