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America’s Evolving Work Patterns: A Deep-Dive into New York and Chicago

Arielle Cizma & Lila Margalit
April 10, 2023
America’s Evolving Work Patterns: A Deep-Dive into New York and Chicago

The rise of hybrid and remote work has left its mark on communities across the nation, impacting everything from commuting habits to domestic migration trends. 

But these shifts aren’t affecting all workers equally. In this post, we dove into the data to explore how employees from different income groups in the downtowns of two major American cities – New York and Chicago – are experiencing today’s evolving workplace. 

Manhattan: More Flexibility for Higher-Income Workers

During the second half of 2022, visitors from affluent areas accounted for a clear majority of employee visits to Midtown Manhattan. 

 Drilling down further into the data, the vast majority of Midtown employees from census block groups (CBGs) with median household incomes (HHIs) under $75K lived between 1-10 miles away from Midtown. Higher-HHI workers tended to be more spread out, and were more likely to live either very close to the office or much further away. Interestingly, a significant share of affluent employees also appear to have been super commuters, or to have expanded their distance as a result of a mid-pandemic move, with some residing more than 100 miles away from Midtown.

In addition, the data suggests that for higher-HHI employees, distance from the office was more strongly correlated with visit frequency. The relatively large proportion of employees living 10-30 miles from Midtown in higher-income CBG accounted for a disproportionately small share of overall visits to the area – indicating that these workers came into the office less often. For lower-income workers living in the outer boroughs or suburbs, the differences between visitors and overall visits were less pronounced. 

These patterns may reflect the greater flexibility afforded to higher-income or more senior employees, but may also indicate that flexible work is most benefiting those most affected by the cost-benefit analysis of the commute. They are more likely to be able to afford housing in close proximity to Midtown, or to have access to hybrid work arrangements that let them decamp to distant suburbs – or even different states – without the grind of a daily commute. 

Chicago Sees Similar Trends

Downtown Chicago, where workers from wealthier neighborhoods also accounted for most employee visits in the second half of 2022, experienced largely similar trends. 

In Chicago, too, the bulk of downtown employees from CBGs with median household incomes under $75K lived 1-10 miles away from the area. And like in Midtown Manhattan, residents of higher-income areas working in downtown Chicago were more spread out and more likely than less affluent employees to live right near the office or further away.

The Windy City saw a larger share of lower-HHI employees living 10-30 miles from downtown than did Manhattan. But like in the Big Apple, the gap between visitors and overall visits was larger for wealthier workers living 10-30 miles away from downtown than for less affluent employees, suggesting that they came in less often. Higher-HHI workers living 1-10 miles away also appear to have come in less frequently.

Looking Ahead

The rise of hybrid and remote work has changed not only how we work, but also where we live. And data on actual employee behavior – including breakdowns by income, commuting distance, and more – can help both cities and businesses better adjust to the “new normal” and continue to plan ahead. Will more affluent employees continue to move out of major cities like New York and Chicago, and relocate to the suburbs or even to different regions altogether? Will the gaps in visitation patterns between higher- and lower-income workers widen or narrow? 

Visit to find out.

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