Massachusetts has one of the highest rates in the country of people working mostly from home, clocking in at nearly a quarter of all workers, according to new estimates from the Census Bureau.
The data, released earlier this month as part of the American Community Survey, shows that 23.7 percent of employees in the state worked from home in 2021, placing it in the top five states for remote-work rates. There was more than a four-fold increase from 2019, when just 5.4 percent of people in Massachusetts were estimated to work from home, according to the survey.
In terms of the percentage of remote workers, Massachusetts was behind only Washington, D.C. (48.3 percent), Washington state (24.2 percent), and Maryland (24 percent). Colorado, like Massachusetts, stood at 23.7 percent.
Nationwide, the number of remote workers tripled from 2019 to 2021, from about 9 million pre-pandemic to 27.6 million. This is the highest number and percentage of people working remotely since the bureau began the ACS survey in 2005.
“Work and commuting are central to American life, so the widespread adoption of working from home is a defining feature of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michael Burrows, a Census Bureau statistician, in a press release. “With the number of people who primarily work from home tripling over just a two-year period, the pandemic has very strongly impacted the commuting landscape in the United States.”
The Census Bureau asks more than 3.5 million households every year to complete the ACS, which provides annual estimates on subjects like housing, education, and employment.
As the number of people around the country working from home climbed last year, average commute times dipped slightly: One-way travel time to work fell to 25.6 minutes in 2021, compared to 27.6 minutes in 2019. In Massachusetts, the 2019 average time of 31 minutes dropped to 27.5 minutes, though now it seems that commuter traffic has returned in full force.
Use of public transportation also took a hit during the pandemic, falling from 5 percent of workers using it to commute in 2019 to 2.5 percent in 2021, the lowest figure ever recorded by the ACS. In Massachusetts, the drop was even more drastic, from 10.4 percent of workers commuting on public transportation in 2019 to 4.5 percent in 2021, which is consistent with the dip in ridership the MBTA reported during the pandemic.
Where workers lived affected remote-work rates. In 2019, the percentage of people living in metropolitan areas and working from home was roughly the same as those living outside of metropolitan areas and working from home (6 percent and 5 percent, respectively). By 2021, the gap had widened to about 19 percent of workers in metropolitan areas working from home, compared to 9 percent of workers outside of metro areas.
In Massachusetts, the number of remote workers hinged strongly on locality. According to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, which compiled the ACS data into searchable tables, Cambridge had the state’s highest percentage of people working from home in 2021 at 44.4 percent (compared to 6.8 percent in 2019). Boston trailed not far behind at 30.3 percent in 2021, up from 4.1 percent in 2019.
By comparison, New Bedford stood at just 5.9 percent of people working from home in 2021, a modest jump from 1.5 percent in 2019.