Longer commutes, expensive housing threaten NoVa economy

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Longer commutes, fewer jobs and expensive housing are combining to have a dramatic impact on Northern Virginia, and many residents are having trouble making ends meet.

It is not a new phenomenon. But a report from the Commonwealth Institute says Northern Virginia, in particular, is being hard hit. For example, in Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties there are twice as many workers as there are jobs.

The report says cuts in hours of work, reduced employment opportunities, income losses and rising prices in gas and other commodities have hurt even the those in higher paying jobs.

The report says the region needs 100,000 jobs just to return to the pre-recession employment levels.

For Brian Wilkins, of Lake Ridge, Va., the report was not surprising. To save gas, he works longer hours so he can commute to D.C. fewer days each week, “I work longer hours during the day, made that commute a lot less.”

Others, like Debra Hunter of Woodbridge, have made other sacrifices.

“I actually took a worse paying job so that I could work closer to home so my commute won’t be as bad.”

She used to commute three hours a day to and from Reston, but now she commutes to Fairfax and saves about 40 minutes a day.

The report says 14.8 percent of the commuters in Northern Virginia travel more than 60 minutes to work. The statewide average in Virginia is just under ten percent and nationally it is roughly 8 percent.

Hunter says the jobs in Prince William County don’t pay enough for her to make ends meet.

The solution may be more jobs in the exurbs, one of the reasons counties like Prince William and Stafford have been heavily recruiting business and industry that could employ local residents.

The report says supporting a family of four in Northern Virginia without relying on any public assistance required an income of over $63,000 in 2010, assuming one preschool child and one school age child.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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