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Census: Working at home grew in first part of decade

Sun., Jan. 31, 2010

Who gets to take conference calls in their pajamas? Data from the Census Bureau says Americans working from home are likeliest to be white, college-educated female professionals. They also tend to work longer hours than those working away from home, such as at an office or construction site.

In 2005, the most recent year for which numbers were available, there were 11.3 million home-based workers – about 8 percent of the U.S. work force – up from 9.5 million in 1999.

About 8.1 million people worked exclusively from home in 2005.

Between the summer of 2008 and January 2009, though, there was a “significant decrease” in the number of professionals who felt comfortable working from home for a company, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy. “Flex time” employees work an alternative schedule, such as one created around a child’s school hours, or at an alternative location such as their own home.

The drop in flex time that Hewlett observed came in the recession that began in December 2007. The unemployment rate was 10 percent in December 2009, compared with 4.9 percent at the end of 2005.

People felt “they really had to be at their desks. They needed to demonstrate that they were indispensable,” Hewlett said of workers who eschewed flex time.

The Census survey also showed that in 2005, about 51 percent of home-based workers were women. The most common reported ages – slightly more than half of those surveyed – were from 35 to 54.

A quarter called themselves professionals, the largest occupation represented, while another 22 percent were administrative or managerial workers, and 18 percent worked in sales.

Those who labored at home were more likely to report working longer hours, 11 or more in a regular work day.

They also tended to have more education. Nearly half had a bachelor’s degree, while a third had some college education.

In the general population, 28 percent of adults 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree. By 2008, according to Census data, that had risen slightly to 29 percent.

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