Monday, March 18, 2019

The Commute Dispute

by cherry-eyed (writer), LIC, August 07, 2007

The average American commutes slightly over 50 minutes to work each day. Then 50 more minutes back home, pending the virulence of rush hour traffic and delays many will encounter (esp. here in the Tri-State area).

Simple arithmetic yields that more than 17 full days of your life this year will be subsumed for the often arduous task of transporting yourself from place of residence to place of employment. Juxtaposition that with the dismal, if not repugnant, fact that the average American takes a measly two weeks of vacation a year, and you’ve got enough to compel almost anyone to advocate for longer (legally mandated perhaps?) vacation.

However, for the purposes of this piece, let's confine ourselves to the usurpation of our personal time by the daily commute,  as what the paltry amount of vacation time might lead to down the road as a society,  is beyond the spectrum of thought presented here (maybe future piece?).

Paradoxically, the commute is most often solitary, despite being surrounded by other people engaging in the exact same activity, albeit toward a different destination. Though the commute can offer a brief respite from the stressors of daily life, it can hardly be assailed as time well spent. Moreover, American parents spend on average about 135 minutes with their children each day, which sadly, isn't a whole lot more than the 100 minutes devoted to the commute. For all our endeavors and technologies devoted to saving us time, it seems odd to leave such a big time-consumer unexamined and unquestioned.

Looking back, the construction of a vast, intricate network of railways, roads, and highways in America permitted workers to emigrate to nascent communities (suburbs) shielded from the hustle and bustle of the city. While benign in intent, this development thus spawned the quintessential trade-off that defines man in the modern world.

It’s no profound insight that the dilemma before us is one characterized by exchange; one extreme posits a cheaper cost of living, augmented living space, safer neighborhoods, etc but with the caveat of the lengthy commute, endured diurnally, marked by ennui. The other extreme is of course to live near work, which is conducive to some professions, but by no means all. While urban areas offer fertile ground from which to seek out employment, even passable places to live in are finite, sometimes rivaling diamonds in both their rarity and desirability. The exorbitant cost of living (as you New Yorkers know better than anyone), the less than copious dwellings, less than stellar schools, not to mention the (perceived?) preponderance of crime is enough to keep many away. But ahhh, the beckoning of urban culture, the vast array of good food to choose from, the freedom conferred by living in an area designed for bipedal mobility, and the vibrancy of city life … Which to choose, what to give up?

The results of a study done recently suggest that job satisfaction, with inherent spillover into life satisfaction, is negatively correlated with commuting time. That is, that the longer the daily commute to and from work that one must endure, the less job satisfaction reported, even after taking other factors into consideration, like position within the organization and hours worked per week. While some might say "Duh", it's still nice to have some empirical evidence to support the claim.

It must be noted that many people simply don’t have much choice in the matter, and consequently must deal with the commute to put food on the table. However, while the commuting time is something most people consider when deciding to take a job, the obscured economic, social, and psychological costs of the lengthy commute are often underappreciated and cumulative over time. Consequently, a small decrease in pay in return for a shorter commute, could bestow tangible benefits to one's well-being; and thus, a re-evaluation of the commute as a whole, in conjunction with various ways its ugly tentacles can permeate into other aspects of one's life, is woefully needed.

About the Writer

cherry-eyed is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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1 comments on The Commute Dispute

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By Geddy on August 11, 2007 at 12:22 pm
Who spends 135 minutes with their kids? My teenage daughter avoids her 'rents like da plague.
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