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Since the onset of COVID-19, remote work has become the norm for many Americans, allowing them to continue to meet some of their expenses while saving where possible. In the late spring of 2020, about half of American workers were working from home, according to two surveys conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Many researchers believe that increased work flexibility and work-from-home opportunities may continue even after the pandemic is over. With that in mind, SmartAsset looked at the best cities to work from home in 2021.
To determine our rankings, we compared 100 of the largest U.S. cities across seven metrics. They span work-from-home flexibility prior to and during COVID-19, along with employment opportunities, poverty rates and housing affordability. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAsset’s third annual study on the best cities to work from home. Our 2020 edition can be found here. Note: This year’s methodology was adjusted to account for COVID-19 and its impact.
- A strong showing from North Carolina. Three cities in North Carolina rank in our top 10: Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte, taking second, sixth and seventh place, respectively. In all three cities, the percentage of people working from home grew by more than 3% between 2014 and 2019, so that even prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 7% of all three cities’ workforces worked remotely.
- Mid-sized cities also rank well. With the exceptions of Charlotte, North Carolina and Austin, Texas, all other cities in our top 10 have populations between 240,000 and 500,000. These cities potentially offer residents larger homes and apartments better suited to working from home. In all eight cities, more than 80% of residences have two or more bedrooms and workforces of which more than 7% were remote in 2019.
1. Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale, Arizona ranks in the top five cities for four of the seven metrics we considered. Census Bureau data shows that in 2019 about 17.9% of workers did work from home, a 6.7% increase from 2014. Additionally, Scottsdale has the fourth-highest estimated percentage of the workforce who can work from home – at about 37% – and third-lowest 2019 poverty rate – at 6.0%.
2. Raleigh, NC
Like Scottsdale, a high proportion of the workforce in Raleigh, North Carolina worked from home prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, 10.5% of the workforce worked remotely in 2019 – the fourth-highest rate for this metric in our study. Raleigh also ranks in the top quartile of our study for four other metrics: It has the 21st-highest estimated percentage of the workforce that can work from home (31.79%), fourth-largest five-year change in workers working from home (4.3%), 18th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate (5.3%) and 21st-lowest poverty rate (10.9%).
3. Plano, TX
North of Dallas, Plano, Texas ranks as the No. 3 city to work from home in 2021. It ranks in the top 10% of the study for three metrics: percentage of the workforce who did work from home in 2019 (9.6%), estimated percentage of the workforce who are able to work from home (35.44%) and 2019 poverty rate (7.5%). Additionally, Plano has the 14th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate, at 5.2%.
4. Gilbert, AZ
Working from home often requires more space, whether that’s a dedicated room or section of a room where one sets up shop. Gilbert, Arizona – one of our best cities to buy an affordable home – has the potential for just that, with a high percentage of residences that have two or more bedrooms. Census Bureau data shows that 96.3% of Gilbert apartments and homes have two or more bedrooms, the highest percentage for this metric in our study. Gilbert also ranks well in our study due to its high percentage of the workforce that worked from home in 2019 (9.5%) and relatively low poverty rate (4.6%).
5. St. Petersburg, FL
With particularly strong low unemployment numbers, St. Petersburg, Florida takes the No. 5 spot. As of October 2020, the greater Pinellas County unemployment rate was just 5.2%, which is 1.5 percentage points below the national average. Remote work has also grown more popular here over the years: The percentage of the workforce working from home grew by 4.6% in St. Petersburg from 2014 to 2019, the third-highest increase in the study.
6. Durham, NC
Durham, North Carolina ranks in the top third of cities across six of the seven metrics we considered, only falling behind for its high poverty rate (15.2%). Durham had the 10th-highest 2014-2019 increase in the study of the percentage of the workforce working from home – and as of 2019, more than 7% of the city’s workforce worked remotely. Taking into account recent changes during COVID-19, we estimate that an additional roughly 25% of the workforce could have telework flexibility.
The October 2020 employment rate in Durham stood at 5.7%. Furthermore, housing costs make up less than 36% of earnings and 86.3% of residences have two or more bedrooms.
7. Charlotte, NC
Charlotte, North Carolina saw the second-largest 2014-2019 increase in the study of the percentage of its workforce working from home, at 4.8%, such that in 2019, 10.0% of workers were remote. Charlotte ranks 23rd-lowest out of all 100 cities for its relatively low poverty rate, at 11.2%.
8. Colorado Springs, CO
Though housing costs as a percentage of earnings are high in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the city ranks in the top quartile of cities for four metrics. It saw the seventh-largest 2014-2019 increase in percentage of workers reporting they worked remotely (3.6%), and it had the 13th-highest percentage of 2019 remote workers (8.5%). Moreover, the city’s 2019 poverty rate is the 12th-lowest overall (9.3%), and it has the 17th-highest percentage of homes and apartments with two or more bedrooms (87.3%).
9. Austin, TX
Working from home was on the rise in Austin, Texas prior to COVID-19. The percentage of workers reporting they worked from home increased by 3.7% over five years, from 7.1% in 2014 to 10.8% in 2019. With that increase, Austin had the third-highest 2019 percentage of the workforce who worked from home across all 100 cities. Employment in Austin has remained strong during COVID-19 relative to other cities. As of October 2020, its unemployment rate was 5.2% – the 14th-lowest of 100 of the largest cities and 1.5 percentage points lower than the national average.
10. Fremont, CA
Fremont, California rounds out our list of the 10 best cities to work from home in 2021. Based on the occupational breakdown of workers, we found that upwards of 35% of Fremont’s workforce could work from home if necessary – a top-10 rate. Apartments and homes in Fremont also generally have the space for working from home. Census Bureau data shows that 87.7% of residences in Fremont have two or more bedrooms – the 13th-highest percentage in our study.
Data and Methodology
To find the best cities to work from home in 2021, we examined data for the 100 largest U.S. cities. We compared those cities across seven metrics:
- Percentage of the workforce who worked from home in 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
- Estimated percentage of the workforce who can work from home. This metric was calculated using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017-2018 Job Flexibilities and Work Schedules Survey and the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
- Five-year change in percentage of the workers reporting they work from home. This is the difference between the percentage of the workforce who worked from home in 2014 and 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2014 and 2019 1-year American Community Surveys.
- October 2020 unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is at the county level.
- Poverty rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
- Housing costs as a percentage of earnings. This is median annual housing costs divided by median earnings for workers 16 years and older. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
- Percentage of residences with two or more bedrooms. This includes both owned and rented apartments and houses. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
We ranked each city in every metric, giving a double weighting to one metric – the estimated percentage of the workforce who can work from home – and a full weighting to all other metrics. We then found each city’s average ranking and used that average to determine a final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
Deciding Where to Live?
- Buy or rent? Even if you have the savings to buy a first home, be sure the switch makes sense. If you are coming to a city and plan to stay for the long haul, buying may be the better option for you. Additionally, a home may offer more space for people who do regularly work from home. However, if your stop in a new city will be a short one, renting may make the most sense. SmartAsset’s rent vs. buy calculator can help you see the cost differential between purchasing a home or apartment and renting.
- Mortgage management. It is important when purchasing a home to know what you’ll pay each month and for how long. To get a sense of what that might look like, check out SmartAsset’s free mortgage calculator.
- Seek out trusted advice. No matter where you live, a financial advisor can help you get your financial life in order. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Questions about our study? Contact us at [email protected].
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