We learn today that the Washington area is one of the richest in the country and also suffers from some of the longest commute times. It’s interesting to note that the richer you are, the more likely you are to have a short commute, which makes sense, because you’re probably paying for proximity, as your time is very valuable. And you can afford it. (Note: this is one reason I continue to be positive about our star-crossed condo–you can try as hard as you like, but you can’t build something in Prince William County that’s as close to downtown as our neighborhood).
This also means that the poorest are shoved off into the farthest flung counties, where the commutes are longest and the available commuting options are the least plentiful.* If you look at any of the nation’s major metropolitan areas, you’ll find that this pattern holds, and it suggests ways that we might work to improve the lives of the nation’s struggling households: by improving access to cities, where economic activity, jobs, and wealth are overwhelmingly concentrated. ByÂ improving transportation in outlying areas (the average resident of Prince William County spends an hour and a half in his car everyday?) and improving central cities’ housing stocks, a metropolitan area could reduce the cost of living for its residents (by reducing commuting costs) and it could therefore boost employment in the area (by reducing the need for employers to compensate employees for those costs). The end result is a cheaper, more flexible labor force supporting a larger tax base in a cleaner, more pleasant city. And more time with your family.
*I know the proximity, wealth thing isn’t perfectly symmetrical; the east side of the inner city doesn’t fit this model, etc. There are other costs associated with living places, which include things like crime, poor schools, a poor housing stock, bad retail options, and so on. Given an increasing premium on proximity, however (like in a city growing richer and more crowded) that asymmetry can’t be maintained. This is why the wealth is moving east in D.C.; it’s too important to be close to ignore a close area.