Home-based workers as a group grew younger, more diverse during the COVID pandemic

“If only temporarily . . . the widespread adoption of home-based work was a defining feature of the pandemic era,” according to survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Lindsay Garfield, finance director for SquareFoot, which helps companies find office space, working from home in New York early in the pandemic in 2020.

Lindsay Garfield, finance director for SquareFoot, which helps companies find office space, working from home in New York early in the pandemic in 2020.

Bebeto Matthews / AP

As a group, people working from home during the worst part of of the COVID-19 pandemic were younger, more diverse, better educated and more likely to move than those who’d been working from home previously, according to new survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In many respects, the demographic makeup of people working from home from 2019 to 2021 became more like that of workers who were commuting, while the share of the U.S. labor force working from home went from 5.7% in 2019 to 17.9% in 2021 as restrictions were implemented to help slow the spread of the virus, according to a report based on American Community Survey data.

“The increase in home-based workers corresponded with a decline in drivers, carpoolers, transit riders and most other types of commuters,” the report said.

Since most pandemic restrictions have been lifted since the 2021 survey was taken, it’s unknown at this point whether the growth in work-from-home was lasting.

Still, the report said: “If only temporarily, the COVID-19 pandemic generated a massive shift in the way people in the United States related to their workplace location. With the centrality of work and commuting in American life, the widespread adoption of home-based work was a defining feature of the pandemic era.”

The share of people working from home between ages 25 and 34 rose from 16% to 23% from 2019 to 2021. The share of home-based workers who are Black went from 7.8% to 9.5%, and it went from 5.7% to 9.6% for Asian workers. It remained flat for Hispanic workers.

The share of home-based workers with a college degree also jumped from just over half to more than two-thirds, and people working from home were more likely to have moved in the past year than commuters.

The two industry groups that saw the greatest jumps in people working from home were information, where it went from 10.4% to 42%, and finance, insurance and real estate, going from 10.8% to 38.4%. Professional and administrative services went from 12.6% to 36.5%.

The smallest gains were in agriculture and mining; entertainment and food services; and armed forces.

While every income level saw increases in the number of people working from home, those in the highest income bracket were the most likely to work from home. While the number doubled from 2019 to 2021 for workers in the lowest income bracket, it tripled for those in the highest.

Home-based work varied by region. By 2021, it was more prevalent in the West and Northeast, making up about one-fifth of the workforce, compared to 16.2% in the South and 15.8% in the Midwest. The variation could have been caused by the availability of Internet access, the cluster of information technology jobs on the coasts and whether people commute by car or public transportation, the report said.

The tech-heavy San Francisco and San Jose metro areas had more than one-third of their labor force working from home in 2021 — the largest share among metros with more than 1 million residents.

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