How have the longer journeys to work faced by Black commuters evolved in the United States over the last four decades? Black commuters spent 50.3 more minutes commuting per week in 1980 than White commuters; this difference declined to 22.4 minutes per week in 2019. Two factors account for the majority of the difference: Black workers are more likely to commute by transit, and Black workers make up a larger share of the population in cities with long average commutes. Increases in car commuting by Black workers account for nearly one-quarter of the decline in the racialized difference in commute times between 1980 and 2019. Today, commute times have mostly converged (conditional on observables) for car commuters in small- and midsized cities. In contrast, persistent differences in commute times today arise in large, segregated, congested, and — especially — expensive cities, revealing the limits of cars in overcoming entrenched racialization of other factors of commuting.
The Problem Has Existed Over Endless Years: Racialized Difference in Commuting, 1980–2019
WP 22-13 – Average commute times have historically varied by race in the U.S. We document trends in commuting differences by race over the past 40 years and explore factors that drive these differences.