Read the original story in The Oregonian here.
Before the economy and the housing market ran out of gas in 2008, Aaron Chapman had "a super easy commute" -- a 20-minute TriMet bus ride from his Northeast Portland home to a software job downtown.
Then he was laid off. Chapman eventually found work as a caregiver at a Sherwood wildcat sanctuary, but he couldn't sell his house.
The result: A daily commute in his Volvo wagon that eats up an hour each way and more than $300 in gas each month.
"When things get better," Chapman said, "we're definitely going to move closer to the job."
Following a recession that walloped employment and the housing sector, Chapman is one of about 90,000 people who commute 60 minutes or more to and from work in Oregon, according to new U.S. Census commuting data released Tuesday.
In the wake of the Great Recession, the census figures provide further evidence that a growing number of Oregon and Southwest Washington residents find themselves trapped in extreme commutes, say demographers, sociologists and traffic experts.
Even as people get new jobs with livable wages, many have found it's hard to sell and even harder to buy homes.
"You may live in Vancouver, but the only job you can find is in Portland," said Charles Rynerson, a demographer at Portland State University's Population Research Center. "There are also a lot of two-worker families, with jobs on both sides of the river."
About 74,000 Washington residents cross the border daily to get to workplaces in Oregon, including 45,078 who live in Clark County.
For the first time ever, statisticians analyzed five years worth of commuting data for full-time workers' responses to Census surveys through 2011. When it comes to what they called "mega-commuters" – people who suffer through at least 90 minutes and travel 50 miles getting to the office in the morning – just 0.7 percent of the Portland region's commuters landed in that category. The national average is 1 percent.
Still, 6.4 percent of workers in the region had commutes of 60 minutes or more. That's more than double the length of the average work trip of 24.8 minutes. Among workers in Multnomah County, 38 percent – or 174,495 – lived outside the county in 2011, the figures show. In Washington County, home to employment magnets such as Nike and Intel, 31 percent of workers came from other counties, mainly Multnomah, Clackamas and Yamhill.
Chapman, however, was one of the 77,649 Multnomah County residents who left the county daily in 2011.
Both Chapman, 37, and his wife now work at the nonprofitWildCat Haven in Sherwood as caretakers of rescued animals. They carpool together. I-84 to I-5? Or I-205 to I-5? Which route is more brutal?
"It's a game we play each day," Chapman said.
Until she was laid off by Xerox last year, D.D. Syrdal, 52, lived and worked in Hillsboro. When she found a job as an administrative assistant at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland a couple months ago, she thought about moving. But she realized she couldn't afford it, and was reluctant to uproot her family.
Now, she rises before the sun and drives to a TriMet park-and-ride in Beaverton, where she grabs at No. 61 bus. Her total commute is usually about 75 minutes. "This morning the bus was 20 minutes late," Syrdal said Tuesday. "That's why I have to try to catch an early one."
Even as the region's housing market shows signs of a recovery, some marathon commuters probably won't change a thing, Rynerson said. For example, there are people who have decided to take advantage of country living allowed by the urban growth boundary, which was ironically created in part to help people live closer to job centers.
"It's a unique situation," Rynerson said. "There all of these small towns and rural areas within commuting distances."
Jason Salmi Klotz, 38, an environmental law attorney who works in downtown Portland, said he and his wife wanted to raise their children away from the city, so they bought a house near Battle Ground Lake.
"We wanted dark nights and land," said Salmi Klotz, who works in downtown Portland. "We lived in North Portland for a while and realized it wasn't what we wanted. We wanted to be able to hear the frogs during the day and the owls at night."
But living that dream requires a supercommute via car and C-Tran bus that can easily take 90 minutes when Interstate 5 traffic jams up across the Columbia.
On the way home Monday night, he arrived at the Salmon Creek park and ride north of Vancouver only to realize he had left his car keys at the office in Portland. He jumped back onto a bus headed to downtown. One problem: No more northbound buses were scheduled to head north to Salmon Creek – and his car –that night.
"I convinced a bus driver to pick me up and take me there as she finished the back-end of a route," Salmi Klotz said. "Fortunately, C-Tran has very nice people working for them."
-- Joseph Rose