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More Americans working from home, seeing higher pay

(MoneyWatch) More people than ever are now working at home and that may be good news for the economy. More than 13.4 million people, or 9.5 percent of the workforce, now work at home according to a new Census Bureau report. Not only does this cut the commute time but it helps workers' wallets as well: They earn significantly more than those who have to stay in the office.

The number of people working at home either full- or part-time has skyrocketed in the last 15 years, increasing by 11 million since 1997. The biggest jump happened from 2005 to 2010, the most recent period for which there is data, when the share of all workers who were home-based went from 7.8 percent to 9.5 percent of the workforce.

Most of those are small business owners and the self-employed. (According to the government, about 45 percent are self-employed.) This trend has increased because so many people struck out on their own following the layoffs during the Great Recession.

However, the number also includes the 4.2 million workers who did their jobs from home at least one day a week in the last decade. The government had lagged behind the private sector in letting this happen. That has changed and accounts for why the public sector participation in this was so much greater than the private sector. Home-based state workers increased by 133 percent in the last decade while the federal rate grew by 88 percent; private companies saw a 67 percent increase.

People who worked from home earned much more than those who worked only outside the home: Median household income was $74,000, compared with $65,600 for on-site workers. Those who worked both in and out of the home did the best, though. Their median household income was $96,300.

This is because of the types of jobs held by these people. According to a report by

  • The typical telecommuter is 49 years old, college educated, a salaried non-union employee in a management or professional role, earns $58,000 a year, and works for a company with more than 100 employees.
  • Relative to the total population, a disproportionate share of management, professional, sales and office workers telecommute.
  • Using home as a "reasonable accommodation" per the Americans with Disabilities Act, 316,000 disabled employees regularly work from home.
  • Non-exempt employees are far less likely to work at home on a regular or ad hoc basis than salaried employees.

There is still a lot of room for growth here. The study found that 64 million people -- about 50 percent of the workforce -- holds a job that is compatible at least part time with working from home. A 2009 report by Telework Trendlines found that 79 percent of U.S. workers would like to do so.

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