The novel coronavirus pandemic has upended many aspects of our lives, including the way we work. Before the virus emptied out office towers, only a small fraction of the U.S. labor force worked from home. Now it’s commonplace.
But some new data reveals that the rise of telework has had a far greater impact on workers in some parts of the country than in others. Seattle is near the top among the nation’s largest metro areas for the switch to remote work since the pandemic.
In the Seattle metro area, which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, nearly half (48.7%) of all adults have switched to teleworking because of the pandemic.
This data comes from the new Household Pulse Survey, which was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau from Aug. 19 through Aug. 31. It shows that nearly 1.5 million people, age 18 and older, in our metro area have substituted some or all of their typical in-person work for telework because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That figure represents nearly half of the roughly 3 million adults who live in our area, and not just those adults that are active in the labor force.
As high as that number is, there are some urban areas where working from home has become even more pervasive. Among the 15 largest metro areas in the U.S., Seattle ranks fourth.
The top three metros are demographically similar to Seattle, with high median household incomes and a largely white-collar work force. That’s not surprising because people in professional occupations are a lot more likely to have the opportunity and ability to work from home than people who work in nonprofessional occupations.
In No. 1 Washington, D. C., a remarkable 56% of the adult population has switched from in-person to telework. Boston is second at 54%, followed by San Francisco at 53%.
At the other end of the spectrum, the numbers are much lower. In Southern California’s Riverside-San Bernardino metro, just over a quarter (28%) of the adult population has transitioned to telework. Miami (34%) and Houston (37%) round out the bottom three among the nation’s largest metros.
Nationally, the percentage of teleworkers is lower than it is in nearly all of our largest metropolitan areas — in total, about 36% of all U.S. adults (85.6 million people) have moved to telework because of the pandemic.
In the Seattle area, the data shows that those who have switched to telework since the virus hit tend to be college-educated with high incomes. Among area residents with a four-year college degree, 69% are now teleworking, compared with about 26% of those with only a high school degree or less. And among those with a household income of $150,000 or higher, 79% are now teleworking, compared with less than a quarter of those making below $50,000.
A gap also exists along racial/ethnic lines, with Asian and white people more likely to be employed in jobs that have converted to telework since the pandemic. More than half of both Asian (54%) and white (51%) people in the Seattle area have made the switch. The numbers are significantly lower for Hispanic people, at 37%, with Black people at 42% and multiracial people at 47%.
There is a lot of conjecture on the future of post-pandemic employment, and whether the move to telework will become permanent. Even if that happens for just half of the folks in the Seattle area who are now teleworking, it would still represent a massive shock to the city — in particular, downtown. A diminished daytime population would threaten the survival of many businesses.
And with thousands of fewer commuters, transit use could drop dramatically. What would that mean for the future of transit funding and support for expansion plans?
The Household Pulse Survey is a new endeavor by the U.S. Census Bureau, working in conjunction with five other federal agencies. Unlike other census products, which have a long lag time, the Household Pulse Survey provides near real-time data.
These statistics are intended to help inform officials and policymakers about the impacts of the pandemic on communities across the country, and to provide data to aid in the post-pandemic recovery.
The Household Pulse Survey publishes new data on a weekly basis, and includes data for the 15 largest metro areas (Seattle just makes the cut at No. 15). About 109,000 respondents answered the online questionnaire for the Aug. 19-31 survey. The telework estimate for the Seattle metro of 48.7% has a margin of error of plus/minus 2.2 percentage points.