Is Population Decentralization Lengthening Commuting Distances?

by Peter A. Morrison, Allan Abrahamse

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Examines how people's home-to-work commuting distances change when they migrate from metropolitan to nonmetropolitan areas. Findings relate to two contrasting suppositions about how workers are becoming repositioned in relation to their jobs as the U.S. population decentralizes: (1) when metropolitan residents disperse beyond existing metropolitan boundaries, their jobs and homes become more separated, lengthening the average distance to work; and (2) nonmetropolitan communities enable workers to live closer to their jobs in these satellite employment centers, thereby shortening the average distance to work. The empirical analysis of a small but well-defined sample of intercounty migrants furnishes suggestive evidence that the second image fits more closely with the realities of how metropolitan-to-nonmetropolitan migrants typically position themselves in relation to their jobs. There is no indication that such migration is lengthening the aggregate distance that workers commute. The assumption that migration out of metropolitan areas is yielding a more energy-intensive configuration of residences and job locations is not upheld.

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