Worst Commutes: New York, San Francisco...Louisiana?

New Census reports show where America's "megacommuters" live and where people are working from home.

A woman waiting for the subway train.

New Yorkers on average have the longest commutes in the nation.

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Commuting can be a time to sing along to the car radio or read quietly on the bus, but somewhere around 45 minutes it just gets too long. Today, the Census released data on who in America has the worst trips to work, as well as who gets to work at home in a Snuggie.

The new report delves into America's "mega commuter" population—those people who travel more then 90 minutes and 50 miles to work. Headline figures from the report show that among cities with the longest average commute times, San Francisco has the most mega commuters, with more than 2 percent of people who live in the Bay area making that uber-long trek every day. However, the data also reveal more unexpected trends.

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The data show that workers in Louisiana are among the most likely to be mega-commuters, rivaling the commuter-bus riders and Amtrak junkies that work in the large metro areas that are the usual suspects of long-commute lists: San Francisco, San Jose, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Nearly 6 percent of people who work in Houma, La., make a 90-minute, 50-mile journey to work, along with nearly 4 percent in New Orleans and over 3 percent in Lafayette. By comparison, less than 1 percent of all commuters nationwide are mega commuters.

Below are the American metro areas with the most mega commuters, according to 2006-2010 Census data:

Metro Area (of workplace) Percent Mega Commuters
Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, La. 5.9
Santa Fe, N.M. 4.4
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. 4.1
New York-Northern N.J.-Long Island, N.Y. 3.8
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. 3.8
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.V. 3.8
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, La. 3.7
Winchester, Va.-W.V. 3.7
El Centro, Calif. 3.4
Lafayette, La. 3.4

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

While the above numbers, as well as the numbers cited below, are not a strict ranking, with margins of error on some of the figures overlapping, they do provide a window into what drives people to drive (or ride a train or bus) an hour and a half to work: not just good jobs, but jobs that require a particular specialty, says one expert, and jobs in oil-drilling tend to fit that description.

"For people who have more of the highly specialized work—if you're doing welding on an oil platform or you have those kinds of skills, there aren't a lot of places where you can do that work, and you move around," says Kevin Stolarick, research director at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. Up and down the Gulf Coast, he says, workers might travel very far to work on an oil rig, but not work on the same one every time—meaning that the family stays put while the worker travels to his or her job, wherever it might be.

Still, those mega-commutes may be an anomaly in Louisiana. When it comes to average commute times, New York City and Washington, D.C. come out on top. Below are the 11 cities with the longest commute times.

Metro Area (of residency) Average Commute Time (minutes)
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa. 34.9
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.V. 34.5
Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, N.Y. 31.8
Winchester, Va.-W.V. 31.6
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. 31
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill.-In.-Wis. 30.9
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. 30.6
Baltimore-Towson, Md. 30.3
Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Md.-W.V. 30.2
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H. 29.2
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. 29.2

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

What do those long commutes mean? Researchers found last year that traffic delays are positively correlated with per capita GDP. While that's not likely a causal relationship, it may show that crowding—and thus congestion—results from growing economies that attract new workers.

Still, output isn't everything, especially if bad commutes make everyone miserable. Various studies have linked long commutes with divorce, high blood pressure, and general unhappiness.

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For people hoping to avoid those problems, there are cities with unusually large populations of workers with super-short commutes—that is, from bed to desk (if that). Below are the 10 cities with the largest percentage of workers who work from home. At the very top is Boulder, Colo., at nearly 11 percent, more than double the national rate of 4.3 percent, as of 2010.

Metro Area Percent Who Work from Home
Boulder, Colo. 10.9
Medford, Ore. 8.4
Santa Fe, N.M. 8.3
Kingston, N.Y. 8.1
Santa Rosa-Petaluma, Calif. 7.9
Mankato-North Mankato, Minn, 7.7
Prescott, Ariz. 7.6
St. Cloud, Minn. 7.6
Athens-Clarke County, Ga. 7.5

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

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