Could Telecommuting Stop The Population Shift To Big Cities?

Recently, CBS MoneyWatch put together a list of the least expensive cities in America. My home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana wasn’t on the list, though I was a little surprised. I’m pretty sure we’d make the top 25. My aunt’s current home of Ashland, Ohio made the cut though, coming in at Lucky No. 7.

After an internship with my city’s Economic Development Alliance while I was in school, I’ve always known that my city has an extremely low cost of living. We have a lot of incentives available for businesses to build here. The problem with my town and others in the Midwest, as I understood it at the time, was that younger workers were all moving to bigger cities to find jobs, leaving small towns like mine full of older workers but little else.

Census data has been backing up that idea, that young people are moving to large cities in record numbers. Currently, about 82% of the population live in cities, compared with a little over 50% in the rest of the world. When you look at the statistics, three-quarters of the U.S. population shares just about three percent of the U.S. land area. With everyone flocking to all that prime real estate, it’s easy to see why cost of living in my relatively small town is pretty low.

But that puts me in an interesting position. Technically, I did have to go to a big city to find work. I just did it from the comfort of my couch. For the past year, my employer has been in New York City. I just don’t have to be in the state of New York (or New Jersey) to work for them. I can do so from my cheap home town. My personal experience has made me wonder if the rise in telecommuting might not slow down the continued urbanization of our country.

Rural areas and small towns are obviously cheaper for families. And the realized income of most US families is down, even as real estate, healthcare and food prices are on the rise. Plenty of workers are being squeezed in the middle. But telecommuters like myself receive the wages of someone who has a city cost-of-living, all while residing in a cheaper locale. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty nice.

Obviously this type of set-up wouldn’t be available to everyone in every position. Plenty of people who work from home only do so on a part-time basis and spend at least one day a week in an office. Realistically, they would still need to be close to their business headquarters. But that being said, I still know plenty of people who spend their work days in a home office on conference calls with employers in large cities hundreds of miles away. If the option is at all possible, it makes lots of financial sense.

Only time will tell if telecommuting has the ability to encourage workers to stay in inexpensive smaller towns and work for large companies located in different states. That being said, I’m certainly thrilled that I’ve been able to take advantage of the situation and stay in my happy, cheap city while working for an amazing, established company in a completely different state. Would you telecommute to save money on everything from real estate to fresh produce?

(Photo: Edyta Pawlowska/Shutterstock)

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