On the road again: Commuting makes a comeback as employers try to put pandemic in the rearview

Sep 13, 2023, 9:17 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — If you think U.S. roads have gotten busier on your morning commute, you’re not alone.

The rate of workers driving to their jobs creeped upwards nationwide last year, as did those who carpool to work by car, truck or van. The mean commuting time jumped by almost a minute in 2022 from the previous year, as more businesses ended full-time remote work, a sign that post-pandemic life edged closer in 2022 to what it was before COVID-19.

The rate of people working from home dropped from almost 18% in 2021 to 15.2% in 2022, according to new survey data on life in America released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey covers commuting times, internet access, family life, income, education levels, disabilities, military service, and employment, among other topics.

Mark Behrens, a human resources data analyst in Orlando working for a Fortune 500 company, started driving to his office in March 2022 after working from home for two years because of the pandemic. Managers now require employees to spend at least three days a week in the office. While most of his co-workers resented the order, Behrens was elated to see the in-person collaboration with his colleagues return to something that felt closer to normal.

“The advantage of coming into the office, even if it’s only hybrid, is not being isolated, having some social connections,” Behrens said. “You see people and you mention something you are working on and you start to talk about it more, and you can come up with more solutions, and make more progress.”

The rate of people commuting to work alone in a vehicle climbed from 67.8% in 2021 to 68.7% in 2022, and it went from 7.8% to 8.6% for carpoolers. Public transportation usage rose from 2.5% to 3.1% year-over-year, and the time people spent traveling to work jumped almost a full minute to 26.4 minutes in 2022 compared to 25.6 minutes in 2021, according to the American Community Survey’s 1-year estimates.

Despite the significant decline in working remotely from 2021 to 2022, it still was almost three times higher than before the pandemic in 2019, when it was only 5.7% and more than three-quarters of workers drove alone to work in a vehicle. The 2022 survey did not let participants say whether they work from home full-time or only some of the time.

Even though there were advantages to working from home, like throwing something into the crock pot during lunch breaks, Allison Graves was happy to return to her first-grade classroom after teaching virtually for most of the first two years of the pandemic, which started in early 2020. With a renewed commute, she could catch up on podcasts she missed because she didn’t spend so much time in her car.

“Continuing virtually just wasn’t the same as teaching face-to-face,” said Graves, who lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “People spent much of 2020 and 2021 not going places, and now people are expected to be back or doing hybrid.”

Earlier this week, the Census Bureau released national data on income, poverty and the rate of people without health insurance. American Community Survey data released Thursday showed what those rates were broken down by states and smaller geographies.

The District of Columbia and New Jersey had the highest median household income with $101,027 and $96,346, respectively, compared to more than $74,000 nationally. Mississippi’s $52,719 was the lowest of any state.

The rate of those lacking health insurance was lowest in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, respectively 2.4% and 2.9%, compared to the national average of 8%. It was highest in Texas at 16.6%.

Fewer people moved in 2022 compared to 2021, and the presence of a child in a household also dropped slightly. The average household size trended lower, going from 2.54 to 2.5 people, as did the average family size, going from 3.15 to 3.11 people.

The foreign born population inched up slightly to 13.9%, and the rate of people who spoke only English at home dropped slightly from the previous year to 78% in 2022.

Even though the back-in-office-three-days-a-week work schedule was mandated for Behrens’ office in 2022, few co-workers followed it, so his company decided not to renew its Orlando office lease. Now all 100 office employees will be working from home, something Behrens isn’t looking forward to when it starts at the end of the month.

“I won’t get to see anybody,” Behrens said. “It’s not ideal for me, though most people have no problem with this, whatsoever, and love it and don’t miss the commute.”


Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.

United States News

Associated Press

Vehicle crashes into building where birthday party held, injuring children and adults, sheriff says

BERLIN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A vehicle drove through a boat club building where a children’s birthday celebration was taking place Saturday, seriously injuring a number of children and adults, a Michigan sheriff said in a news release. The victims were taken to several area hospitals after the crash that occurred at about 3 p.m. […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

3 hospitalized after knife attack on party boat in New York City, along East River in Brooklyn

NEW YORK (AP) — A knife attack on a crowded party boat at a New York City pier Saturday resulted in the hospitalization of three people, police said. A 911 call came in around 5 p.m. reporting the assault along the East River near 58th Street and the Brooklyn Army Terminal warehouse, Detective Sophia Mason […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Autoworkers union celebrates breakthrough win in Tennessee and takes aim at more plants in the South

DALLAS (AP) — The United Auto Workers’ overwhelming election victory at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee is giving the union hope that it can make broader inroads in the South, the least unionized part of the country. The UAW won a stunning 73% of the vote at VW after losing elections in 2014 and 2019. […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Conditions improve for students shot in Maryland park on ‘senior skip day’

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — Three of the five youths shot in a suburban Washington, D.C., park during a high school “senior skip day” gathering have been released from the hospital, while the condition of the most seriously injured has improved, authorities said Saturday. Police in Greenbelt, Maryland, are asking the public to share video footage […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

New York lawmakers pass $237 billion budget addressing housing construction and migrants

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers passed a $237 billion state budget Saturday that includes plans to spur housing construction and combat unlicensed marijuana stores. The package also includes a raft of other measures ranging from expediting the closure of some state prisons, addressing the recent influx of migrants, and continuing the pandemic-era policy […]

6 hours ago

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - DECEMBER 9, 2019: A copy of the record album, 'Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison'...

Associated Press

Record Store Day celebrates indie retail music sellers as they ride vinyl’s popularity wave

Record Store Day, a holiday invented at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees in 2007, will be observed Saturday.

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

On the road again: Commuting makes a comeback as employers try to put pandemic in the rearview