There are still black holes in a world of government data – one of the largest is the lack of timely information related to commuting.  We usually think of commuting only as people leaving San Benito County to work elsewhere and forget that commuting it a two-way street; we have both. Data regarding the commute are estimates based on patterns that are several years old. The 10-year Census is when most information was collected and will be updated. It took three years following the last census to get this report, since roads are so important, that’s too long.

How many workers commute to or from San Benito County?

That question is one of the most difficult to answer. The commute maps (see attached pdf file at the end of this article) from the California Employment Development Department (EDD) are based on a 2013 Special Report of 2006 to 2010 County-to-County Commuting Flows.

They indicate that 12,213 total workers both lived and worked in San Benito County (SBC); 4,490 workers commuted into SBC while 11,694 workers commuted out of county.

This means 49 percent of the county workforce was commuting out while 27 percent of the in-county workforce was commuting in; that may surprise you.

Putting the data together the total was 23,907 workers from SBC (12,213 in-county workers and 11,694 out-commuters). Including those commuting in, 16,703 total jobs were in SBC.

Average civilian employment rose to 27,783 in 2016 an increase of 4,075 (17 percent) and that commute data is missing. Assuming a continuation of the previous pattern, SBC now totals 13,690 out-commuters.

Where do the commuters come from and where do they go?

The attached maps show the source and recipients of SBC’s commuters as in the table below:

County / From SBC / To SBC / Total Traffic / Net From SBC

Santa Clara / 7,345 / 1,108 / 8,453 / 6,237

Monterey / 2,922 / 1,513 / 4,435 / 1,409

Santa Cruz / 848 / 538 / 1,386 / 310

San Mateo / 149 / 13 / 162 / 136

Merced / 21 / 640 / 661 / (619)

Fresno / 7 / 14 / 21 / (7)

Alameda County was over 100 going each way and San Francisco 51 from, 15 to SBC. We also received commuters from Contra Costa, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Stanislaus, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. The general pattern is simple; net commuter flows go from counties with more affordable housing to the counties where there are more and better paying jobs. 

What is the commuter cash flow in San Benito County?

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), uses government data to estimate gross commuter earnings inflows and outflows.

In 2010 commuters to SBC took $223 million out of county while commuters from SBC brought in earnings of $739 million; the result was a net inflow of $516 million. For 2015 the figures were, outflow of earnings $319 million, inflow of earnings more than $1 billion, net SBC inflow $683 million.

The inflow equals an average personal gross income of $73,000 and that’s why people commute; however, the cost of commuting can reduce that significantly.

What does it cost to commute?

The cost to each commuter depends on their individual circumstances. Assuming they work four 10-hour days, 48 weeks a year to reduce the number of trips and to allow for off rush-hour travel 50 miles away, and drive alone taking one hour door-to-door they will travel 19,200 annual miles and use 384 hours of travel time. The IRS estimates car operating costs at 54 cents a mile (I’m sure it’s more in California, especially with the new gas taxes); that equals a $10,368 reduction of net earnings because the cost is not tax deductible for most people.

How much time is worth is really up to the commuter. Some people see those additional hours on the road as just part of their work time, to others it’s more valuable depending on their lifestyle and economic condition.

Carpooling will reduce the cost as will the using the train, but there is no perfect answer. The lure of higher pay and the location-based housing costs are sure to make commuting a continued way of life for many area workers, only an increase in local economic opportunity can change that equation.