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Employees working from home during the worst part of the coronavirus pandemic were younger, more diverse and better educated, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In many respects, the demographic makeup of people working from home between 2019 and 2021 became more like workers who were commuting, while the share of the U.S. labour force working from home went from 5.7 per cent in 2019 to 17.9 per cent in 2021, as restrictions were implemented to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The share of remote workers aged 25 to 34 jumped from 16 per cent in 2019 to 23 per cent in 2021. The share of Black employees working remotely increased from 7.8 per cent to 9.5 per cent, while the percentage of Asian employees increased from 5.7 per cent to 9.6 per cent. The percentage of home-based workers with a college degree also jumped from slightly more than half to more than two-thirds.

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The two industry groups that saw the greatest jumps in employees working from home were information technology — increasing to 42 per cent in 2021 from 10.4 per cent in 2019 — and finance, insurance and real estate, where the percentage increased to 38.4 per cent from 10.8 per cent. The smallest gains were in agriculture and mining, entertainment and food services and the armed forces.

Home-based work also varied by region. By 2021, it was more prevalent in the west and northeast, accounting for roughly a fifth of the U.S. workforce, compared to 16.2 per cent in the south and 15.8 per cent in the midwest. The variation may have been caused by the availability of internet access, the cluster of IT jobs on the coasts and the way people commute, whether by car or public transportation, said the report.

In the tech-heavy San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas, more than a third of the labour force was working from home in 2021 — the largest share among cities with more than one million residents.

“If only temporarily, the pandemic generated a massive shift in the way people in the U.S. related to their workplace location,” said the report. “With the centrality of work and commuting in American life, the widespread adoption of home-based work was a defining feature of the pandemic era.”

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