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Meet America's Mega-Commuters

Rob Perks

Posted March 12, 2013

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In a recent blog post I mentioned the phenomenon of extreme or "mega-commuters" -- the nearly 600,000 U.S. workers who travel at least 90 minutes and 50 miles to work every day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey

I just ran across this interesting piece breaking down who these hearty (and beleaguered) souls are. In general, these are the characteristics of the workers enduring those really long commutes:

1. Men

2. Middle-aged

3. Middle-income

4. Married (with stay-at-home spouse)

Essentially, we're talking about a 1950's-style dad dealing with the mega-commutes of a modern world in order to maintain that particular throwback lifestyle. Or as the article concluded:

"It's possible that to get reasonably-paying jobs that can support a stay-at-home spouse and decent home, workers now have to travel farther than ever. It's also possible that it's very difficult to handle a 90 minute commute unless you have a stay-at-home or part-time working partner. Whatever the case, a look at America's longest commuters also reveals a sector of American society that looks a lot like a certain version of the past — except for the part where Dad spends three hours of his day on the road and probably can't be home for dinner."

All that driving means dealing with congestion and paying high gasoline prices. It's no wonder then that only a small percentage of American commuters are actually mega-commuters while more and more people are trading traffic-clogged roads altogether and rising prices at the gas pump for public transportation. Indeed, U.S. transit systems recorded 10.5 billion trips last year, the second-highest levelsince 1957. The the lion’s share of that growth was on light-rail systems. 

With riding the rails (and the bus!) back in vogue again, everything old is new again. Perhaps the rebirth of public transportation will be the travel mode share that eventually takes the place of the automobile. The end of the car? Maybe the mega-commuters won't miss it!

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K CMar 12 2013 12:42 PM

Abandoning the "throwback lifestyle" of previous generations has a lot to do with rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and the host of other illnesses that are sweeping America. With both parents working, no one is home to take proper care of the family and growing children. Instead, families rely ever more on the prepared, packaged, nutritionally deficient foods that are leading to these epidemic health problems. When both parents work, who has time to stay home and cook healthy whole foods? It is sad that we are abandoning the fulfillment of the needs of our families in order to live in expensive urban areas -- but what other solution is there to avoid the maddening traffic clogs that define access to the more affordable housing in the suburbs?

Rob PerksMar 12 2013 12:50 PM

Yes, many of us have two-income households, which can make it challenging to eat right and exercise since domestic duties have to be done after work. But as far as housing costs go, it's worth considering “location efficiency”, which is a measure of the transportation costs in a given area. With transportation costs accounting for roughly 17 percent of the average American household’s income, the need for better land use planning and better lending practices has never been more clear. A study by NRDC shows that factors such as neighborhood compactness, access to public transit, and rates of vehicle ownership are key factors to consider when choosing where to live. In short, living closer to work -- with acces to transit -- can signifantly reduce transportation costs and save time, thereby improving quality of life along with environmental benefits.

Cog NitiveMar 13 2013 03:41 PM

Wonder how many of those men are mortgagees, who can't climb out of the negative equity that shackles them to such communtes.

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