Half of New Jersey workers started working from home during the pandemic, and many of them don’t think that they’ll ever be going back to their workplace full time, according to the latest results from the FDU Poll’s survey of New Jersey voters.
Even though most New Jersey adults are now vaccinated against COVID-19, only 27 percent of workers who started working from home say that they’ve started going back to the office full time, and 26 percent of those now working from home don’t think that they’ll ever be back in their workplace.
This represents an enormous shift in work habits, and one that has ramifications for mass transit, and the economies of the states surrounding New Jersey. Republicans and Democrats also have very different experiences of the pandemic, and Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to want to go back to the pre-pandemic workplace experience.
At the start of the pandemic last year, 67 percent of men and 52 percent of women in the survey said that they had jobs outside of the home. Of them, half (51 percent) started working from home part time (22 percent) or full time (29 percent). Perhaps because of differences in childcare demands, women were more likely than men to say that they worked from home part time (22 percent) or full time (32 percent) than men. Not surprisingly, more educated workers were also more likely to have been working from home during the pandemic: 70 percent of workers without a college degree kept going to their work during the pandemic, compared to just 36 percent of those with a college degree.
In the more than a year since people started working from home in an effort to “bend the curve,” 35 percent of workers who started working from home say that they’re still working from home full time. Just 27 percent say that they’re going to a workplace full time, with 28 percent saying that they combine working at a workplace and home. Nine percent of respondents who were employed at the start of the pandemic say that they no longer are, a group that includes more than twice as many women (12 percent) as men (5 percent). Workers with a college degree are also more likely to say that they’re still working from home (40 percent) than those without a college degree (22 percent).
“The pandemic really exacerbated a lot of the inequalities that were already in the system,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the Executive Director of the FDU Poll. “Some people came out fine, but less-educated workers were less able to move to remote work. Women were less able to balance remote work with the demands of household labor.”
There are also partisan splits in current work practices: two-thirds of Democrats (67 percent) say that they’re still working from home at least some of the time, compared to half of Republicans (49 percent).
“We talk a lot about splits in views of the pandemic, but it’s not all people just mindlessly reflecting their party,” said Cassino. “The lived experience of the pandemic has been very different for Republicans and Democrats, and that has to be shaping views as well.”
While the plurality of workers currently working from home say that they expect to be back to going outside to work later this year (37 percent), eight percent say that they don’t expect to start going to work until next year, and a quarter of them (26 percent) say that they don’t expect to ever go back into the office. These workers who expect to be at home permanently include more men (28 percent) than women (23 percent). All told, 55 percent of men think that they’ll be back at their workplace by the end of the year, compared to just 48 percent of women.
Many of these workers previously commuted from New Jersey to New York City or Philadelphia: their absence means that government and businesses in those areas will have to adapt, as will mass transit, which can expect fewer riders than in the past.
“We all thought the shift to working at home was going to be temporary, but more than a quarter of the people who started working from home are never going back,” said Cassino. “The ripple effects of this are huge: this means that we have to rethink funding for mass transit, tax agreements with New York, even demands on the electrical grid.”
This is a big change from before the pandemic, but Garden State voters seem to like it this way. When asked what their preference would be, only 31 percent say that they would choose to go in to work every day. A larger group (38 percent) say that they would rather work from home some of the time, and go to work other times, and 18 percent say that they would prefer to always work from home. Younger respondents (under 35) are the most likely to want flexibility in their schedules, with 54 percent saying that they would prefer to split their time between home and the workplace, compared to 35 percent of workers aged 35 to 64. Workers with a college education are also less likely to say that they want to go to their workplace (28 percent) than those without a college degree (37 percent).
“There have been some upsides to remote work, and some workers, especially younger ones, are loath to give them up,” said Cassino. “Especially for younger more educated workers, what they’ve been doing for the last year seems like a better deal than going to the office every day.”
Partisan differences show up in preferences about working from home, as well. Almost half of Republicans (47 percent) say that they would prefer to go in to work full time, rather than working at home, compared to just 20 percent of Democrats. A plurality of Democrats would prefer to split their time between working from home and out (46 percent), compared to just a quarter (24 percent) of Republicans.
“The same values that shape our political views also seem to shape our views of work-life balance,” said Cassino. “Democrats are telling us that they don’t want to go back to a traditional workplace.”
The potential impact of this shift in work habits on transportation policy is clear from respondent’s descriptions of how they get to work, when they go. Ten percent of New Jersey workers say that they use mass transit (trains or buses) for their commute: a group that includes more college educated (11 percent) workers than other workers (8 percent). With these workers being disproportionately likely to work from home going forward, mass transit may get less crowded, but lower ridership complicates funding for the system, which is often based on the number of riders.
“Trains and buses cost the same to run no matter how many people are on them,” said Cassino. “If a lot of commuters are staying home, someone is going to have to start paying more to keep things going.”
The survey was conducted between June 9 and June 16, 2021, using a certified list of registered voters in New Jersey.
The data were weighted to be representative of the registered voter population of New Jersey. The weights used, like all weights, balance the demographic characteristics of the sample to match known population parameters. The weighted results used here are balanced to match parameters for sex, age, and race/ethnicity.