The Governing magazine blog has published some fascinating U.S. census data on commuting patterns in the U.S., and though the author did not pick up on this particular angle, the data shows Virginia as a real outlier.
The chart above, extracted from the census data, shows Virginia counties with populations of 60,000 or more. There are 796 such counties in the United States. Arlington County ranks at the very top of the list, higher even than Washington, D.C., as measured by the percentage of the county workforce that commutes from outside the country. York County, Va., ranks No. 4 in the country — just behind New York County, N.Y. Five other Virginia counties make the Top 50. And Montgomery County (where the town of Blacksburg is located), the bottom-listed county in Virginia, still makes it into the top half for all U.S. counties.
This is remarkable: Virginia’s most populous counties appear to lead the nation in the extent to which workers drive to work from other jurisdictions.
What does it mean? I’m not sure. The phenomenon is conceivably an artifact of the fact that Virginia is the only state in the country in which cities and counties are separate jurisdictional entities, not overlapping entities — although I cannot readily see how that would make any difference.
Another possibility is that there is an extraordinary amount of sprawl going on — Arlington residents commuting to D.C.; Fairfax residents commuting to Arlington; Loudoun and Prince William residents commuting to Fairfax; and residents of outlying counties commuting to Loudoun and Prince William.
Conversely, it’s conceivable (though, based on anecdotal observation, not likely) that a tremendous amount of reverse commuting occurring.
If anyone has any thoughts as to what is going on please submit your observations in the comments. (Hat tip: Rob Whitfield.)