How have pandemic-era commuting changes impacted some U.S. cities since the transition to home-based and hybrid work since 2021?

As more people worked from home in 2021 following the onset of remote work requirements (or popular job perk depending on who you ask), some U.S. cities experienced significant drops in commuter-adjusted population. One way the US Census Bureau has for gauging the magnitude of this change is through  its commuter-adjusted population estimate—or the number of people in a geographic area during normal business hours, including residents who do not work and workers who work there regardless of where they live (and excludes workers who live there but do not work there). Note that the commuter-adjusted population does not account for students, customers, tourists, and other transient visitors or for day-to-day differences in workers' schedules.

Commuter-adjusted population estimates are just one measure of how people relate to their place of work and the effect that relationship has on communities.

This analysis uses 2019 and 2021 American Commuter Survey (ACS) 1-year estimates to highlight how the dramatic increase in home-based work during the pandemic changed the population distribution of many key metro areas during a typical workday. A positive number indicates population increase and a negative number population decrease. Also on the chart is "resident population", a metric that refers to anyone who resides in the area regardless of whether they work there, as well.

As the nation's most populous metro area in both 2019 and 2021, most counties in the NY metro area saw increases in their commuter-adjusted population during these years that were greater than their resident population. Brooklyn, NY (or Kings County), for example, was the county in the NY metro area with the largest absolute increase in resident and commuter-adjusted population. Its total resident population grew by roughly 81k between 2019 and 2021, whereas its commuter-adjusted population grew by about 300k—the difference suggesting that far more more people were working in Kings County in 2021 than in 2019. And indeed roughly 325k workers living in Kings County worked from home in 2021 (compared to fewer than 60k in 2019).

Manhattan saw the opposite trend between 2019 and 2021, suggesting that many people working in Manhattan did not live there, as two years later they were no longer commuting there regularly. Manhattan's total resident population decreased by roughly 50k people, but the drop in its commuter-adjusted population was much, much steeper at about 800k people.

The next most populous metro area, Los Angeles, saw Los Angeles County's populations decline by roughly 200k, and Orange County's resident population decrease by just 8k while commuter-adjusted population decreased by roughly 50k.

In Chicago, Cook County's commuter-adjusted population fell by about 60k despite a gain of about 23k residents between 2019 and 2021, whereas most surrounding counties gained commuter-adjusted population (indicating that the majority of Cook County workers do not live in the county where they are commuted to).

And in Texas, Dallas County also saw a decline in commuter-adjusted population by 140k compared to a decline in resident population of 49k. And in Harris County (Houston area), commuter-adjusted population fell by about 52k while resident population increased by 15k.