Census Bureau Tracks Work-at-Home Trend

Net Log John Makulowich

Census Bureau Tracks Work-at-Home Trend

The Internet's dramatic jump in popularity and use, especially that of the World Wide Web, must lead others like myself to wonder about the increase in work-at-home and telecommuting in the United States.

Does the Internet really make a difference in where and how people work? More importantly, are public and private sector organizations taking advantage of this technology to, at least, reduce overhead, if not stress, by allowing workers to produce from offices at home?

While a definitive answer seems unavailable, a recent publication named "Census Brief," courtesy of the Commerce Department's Bureau of the Census, was headlined, "Increase in At-Home Workers Reverses Earlier Trend."

As noted by Phillip Salopek, a demographer in the Census Bureau's population division and an analyst for the Census Brief, "The decade of the 1980s marked a rebirth of work at home in the United States, with the number of at-home workers jumping 56 percent from 1980 to 1990. And this impressive growth occurred before the expansion of the Internet."

After speaking with Salopek, I found that a number of distinctions are necessary to fully understand the publication. First, the study split the work force into two groups: those whose primary place of work was at home, that is, the place they worked the most hours during the last week at the time of the census survey; and those whose primary place of work was not at home. Among the former group, which numbered 3.4 million people, 54 percent were self-employed.

If you are wondering why those numbers are so low, the Census Bureau is quick to note that not only are more recent surveys done by private firms based on smaller samples or anecdotal evidence, but also their definitions of terms are different.

The census data is based on questions about how the respondents usually get to work. Thus, those who work at home part of the week and at a remote site the rest of it are not included in the work-at-home estimate.

Among the interesting findings were that while more people are working at home, only 3 percent of the work force worked at home full time. Also, only 36 percent of those who worked at home were employed by private-sector companies versus 77 percent of those who worked away from home.

Further, for those who worked at home, the proportion of women, 52 percent, was greater than of those who worked away from home, 45 percent. And those who worked at home were older than those who did not, with 44 percent of at-home workers being 45 years or older.

You can view a set of data tables about this at www.census.gov/main/www/subjects.html#w. Click your mouse on "Work at Home."

As the publication observes, "Given the advancements in personal computers and Internet technology since these data were collected in the 1990 census, we expect even more significant increases in the proportion working at home by Census 2000."

Salopek expected a new report out within the next year from the bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation. It will address this issue in more detail, specifically worker's schedules and working at home.

You can send John e-mail at john@journalist.com; his Web address is www.cais.com/makulow/.

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