Where you live has a huge impact on the kind of employment opportunities available to you. The Regional Plan Association, an urban advocacy organization based in the New York metropolitan area, created a map highlighting how access to jobs varies across cities and even neighborhoods around New York. It shows how jobs are distributed in the region, by industry and by the education level required for the job (as measured by U.S. Census data). And boy, do even a few miles make a huge difference in how much access you have to employment.
For instance, if you live in Hoboken, New Jersey, and want to spend an hour or less commuting by public transportation and walking, there are around 3.2 million jobs that you could feasibly get to–in hospitality, health care, finance and more–mostly in Manhattan, Newark, and surrounding towns. If you have a car, that number goes up to more than 4.9 million. If you live in Hunts Point in the Bronx, and want an hour’s commute by public transit, the number dips dramatically, to 2.1 million jobs–almost entirely confined to the Bronx, Manhattan, and the upper portion of Queens.
And even though Manhattan has arguably the best public transportation network in the country, it’s not spread out equally across the island. Live at the tip of Washington Heights? Good luck getting anywhere farther south than the Upper West Side in less than half an hour. Depending on where you live in Washington Heights, there may be fewer than 300,000 jobs available to you for that commute. Live in Alphabet City on the East Side and want a nice half hour commute? Best to confine yourself to downtown and Midtown East–where some 1.6 million jobs await. Whereas if you live in Tribeca, you have access to almost 2.5 million jobs across most of Manhattan, plus parts of downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, and New Jersey in under a half an hour by public transit. (Needless to say, you still have far more options anywhere in the walkable, mixed-use urban density of Manhattan than in a suburb like Bloomfield, New Jersey, where the same transit commute would reach just 27,000 jobs.)
Being able to secure a reasonable daily commute isn’t a trivial matter. Studies have found commuting makes people anxious and unhappy, especially those folks who commute between an hour and 90 minutes each way. It’s bad for your health, and even bad for your marriage.
The map underscores how much certain factors can impact our employment choices, whether it’s having a car, living in a neighborhood that’s well served by transit, working in a certain industry, or being able to take a job that requires a bachelor’s degree. Even moving the starting point of your commute a few blocks away can cause the number of jobs available to change by a few hundred thousand. Compare this map to some of RPA’s other maps, like discretionary income (income after housing, transportation, and taxes) and access to schools, and an even more complex picture emerges about how geography affects our lives.