America today: Longer commutes, higher rents, less English at home

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Commuters on Interstate 70 just west of Highway 370 on May 20, 2011. Photo by Dawn Majors of the Post-Dispatch

Americans are commuting longer, speaking less English at home and paying more for rent, according to a new data release from the Census Bureau made Thursday.

The census data, called the American Community Survey, is released in yearly intervals and is filled with facts and figures about how the country’s demographics are changing. It shows not just where rents go up but also where they decline. It shows where new immigrant groups are moving and where poverty is declining and rising. It also shows trends, like the increase in Spanish spoken in the home, that are often the subject of political debate.

This year’s release summarizes data captured from 2012 through 2016.

Many of the findings of the survey dovetail with the messages President Trump pitched to American voters during the election — about infrastructure spending on roads, fights about immigration issues and difficulties facing lower income groups.

Longer commutes

Americans are driving longer on the country’s roads and bridges to get to work. This is particularly true in larger metro areas or smaller metro areas within commuting distance of a larger metro area. Shorter commutes are generally found around smaller metro areas. On the whole, the census found that commutes got slightly longer from 2012 through 2016 than in the previous five-year period.

The worst work commutes are in the Northeast and around Washington, DC. Average commute times to and from these areas are at least 30 minutes each way. They include:

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-Pa
  • New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ Metro Division
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metro Area
  • Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY Metro Division
  • Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA Metro Division
  • Boston, MA Metro Division
  • Philadelphia, PA Metro Division

The longest average commute is around the East Stroudsburg, PA Metro Area, over 38 minutes each way. More than 7 million Americans rely on public transportation and infrastructure, like rail, subway or bus, to get to work.

The Census Bureau released a full list of over 900 commuting areas with its report, broken out by average commute time.

Less English spoken at home

On the campaign trail, Trump made it a point that English is the language of the United States. He told Jeb Bush: “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.” The census shows why that message may have resonated: Increasingly, other languages are spoken at home.

21.1 percent of the population age 5 and older spoke a language other than English at home, an increase from 20.3 percent in the previous five-year period, the Census found.

That said, of those speaking another language at home, 59.7% also spoke English “very well.” This is up from 57.1% in the previous five-year period, 2007 to 2011. Many speaking languages other than English are speaking Spanish. But they’re also speaking Haitian, Punjabi and Bengali in large numbers, the Census Bureau found.

Higher rents

Another data point is sure to be a total non-surprise to a certain mustached politician. As Jimmy McMillan, a presidential contender from 2012 who founded the Rent is Too Damn High Party, knew: Rents have become less affordable. Trump promised that his policies would increase wages, making rent more affordable.

The total cost of rent and utilities increased an average of $21 in the period of the survey — 2012 through 2016 — compared with the previous five-year window. The greatest increase was seen around Silicon Valley, in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, area, where rents increased about $250 per month. Carson City, Nevada, saw one of the largest decreases, with about a $150/month drop in total rent.

Last, the report found that poverty has dropped considerably in the Dakotas and Midwest in the last 10 years, in part because of the oil boom in the Dakotas. Poverty has risen the most in Arizona and Florida, two areas hit particularly hard by the financial crisis.

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