FDU Poll: A Quarter of NJ Workers Never Going Back to the Office

The New Jersey Statehouse and Capitol Building In Trenton

Half of New Jersey workers started working from home during the pandemic, and many of them don’t think that they’ll ever be going back to their workplace full time, according to the latest results from the FDU Poll’s survey of New Jersey voters. Even though most New Jersey adults are now vaccinated against COVID-19, only 27 percent of workers who started working from home say that they’ve started going back to the office full time, and 26 percent of those now working from home don’t think that they’ll ever be back in their workplace. This represents an enormous shift in work habits, and one that has ramifications for mass transit, and the economies of the states surrounding New Jersey. Republicans and Democrats also have very different experiences of the pandemic, and Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to want to go back to the pre-pandemic workplace experience.

At the start of the pandemic last year, 67 percent of men and 52 percent of women in the survey said that they had jobs outside of the home. Of them, half (51 percent) started working from home part time (22 percent) or full time (29 percent). Perhaps because of differences in childcare demands, women were more likely than men to say that they worked from home part time (22 percent) or full time (32 percent) than men. Not surprisingly, more educated workers were also more likely to have been working from home during the pandemic:  70 percent of workers without a college degree kept going to their work during the pandemic, compared to just 36 percent of those with a college degree.

In the more than a year since people started working from home in an effort to “bend the curve,” 35 percent of workers who started working from home say that they’re still working from home full time. Just 27 percent say that they’re going to a workplace full time, with 28 percent saying that they combine working at a workplace and home. Nine percent of respondents who were employed at the start of the pandemic say that they no longer are, a group that includes more than twice as many women (12 percent) as men (5 percent). Workers with a college degree are also more likely to say that they’re still working from home (40 percent) than those without a college degree (22 percent).

“The pandemic really exacerbated a lot of the inequalities that were already in the system,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the Executive Director of the FDU Poll. “Some people came out fine, but less-educated workers were less able to move to remote work. Women were less able to balance remote work with the demands of household labor.”

There are also partisan splits in current work practices: two-thirds of Democrats (67 percent) say that they’re still working from home at least some of the time, compared to half of Republicans (49 percent).

“We talk a lot about splits in views of the pandemic, but it’s not all people just mindlessly reflecting their party,” said Cassino. “The lived experience of the pandemic has been very different for Republicans and Democrats, and that has to be shaping views as well.”

While the plurality of workers currently working from home say that they expect to be back to going outside to work later this year (37 percent), eight percent say that they don’t expect to start going to work until next year, and a quarter of them (26 percent) say that they don’t expect to ever go back into the office. These workers who expect to be at home permanently include more men (28 percent) than women (23 percent). All told, 55 percent of men think that they’ll be back at their workplace by the end of the year, compared to just 48 percent of women.

Many of these workers previously commuted from New Jersey to New York City or Philadelphia: their absence means that government and businesses in those areas will have to adapt, as will mass transit, which can expect fewer riders than in the past.

“We all thought the shift to working at home was going to be temporary, but more than a quarter of the people who started working from home are never going back,” said Cassino. “The ripple effects of this are huge: this means that we have to rethink funding for mass transit, tax agreements with New York, even demands on the electrical grid.”

This is a big change from before the pandemic, but Garden State voters seem to like it this way. When asked what their preference would be, only 31 percent say that they would choose to go in to work every day. A larger group (38 percent) say that they would rather work from home some of the time, and go to work other times, and 18 percent say that they would prefer to always work from home. Younger respondents (under 35) are the most likely to want flexibility in their schedules, with 54 percent saying that they would prefer to split their time between home and the workplace, compared to 35 percent of workers aged 35 to 64. Workers with a college education are also less likely to say that they want to go to their workplace (28 percent) than those without a college degree (37 percent).

“There have been some upsides to remote work, and some workers, especially younger ones, are loath to give them up,” said Cassino. “Especially for younger more educated workers, what they’ve been doing for the last year seems like a better deal than going to the office every day.”

Partisan differences show up in preferences about working from home, as well. Almost half of Republicans (47 percent) say that they would prefer to go in to work full time, rather than working at home, compared to just 20 percent of Democrats. A plurality of Democrats would prefer to split their time between working from home and out (46 percent), compared to just a quarter (24 percent) of Republicans.

“The same values that shape our political views also seem to shape our views of work-life balance,” said Cassino. “Democrats are telling us that they don’t want to go back to a traditional workplace.”

The potential impact of this shift in work habits on transportation policy is clear from respondent’s descriptions of how they get to work, when they go. Ten percent of New Jersey workers say that they use mass transit (trains or buses) for their commute: a group that includes more college educated (11 percent) workers than other workers (8 percent). With these workers being disproportionately likely to work from home going forward, mass transit may get less crowded, but lower ridership complicates funding for the system, which is often based on the number of riders.

“Trains and buses cost the same to run no matter how many people are on them,” said Cassino. “If a lot of commuters are staying home, someone is going to have to start paying more to keep things going.”

 

Methodology

The survey was conducted between June 9 and June 16, 2021, using a certified list of registered voters in New Jersey. Voters were randomly chosen from the list, and contacted in one of two ways. Three-quarters of the respondents (608) received an invitation through SMS (text) to fill out the survey online, via a provided link. The other quarter of respondents (193) were contacted via telephone, using the same registered voter list. The survey covers 803 registered voters in New Jersey, ages 18 and older, and was conducted entirely in English. The survey was carried out by Braun Research, Inc, of Princeton, New Jersey. Of the interviews, 123 were conducted over land lines, the remainder via cell phones.

The data were weighted to be representative of the registered voter population of New Jersey. The weights used, like all weights, balance the demographic characteristics of the sample to match known population parameters. The weighted results used here are balanced to match parameters for sex, age, and race/ethnicity.

SPSSINC RAKE, an SPSS extension module that simultaneously balances the distributions of all variables using the GENLOG procedure, was used to produce final weights. Weights were trimmed to prevent individual interviews from having too much influence on the final results. The use of these weights in statistical analysis helps to ensure that the demographic characteristics of the sample approximate the demographic characteristics of the target population. The size of these weights is used to construct the measure of design effects, which indicate the extent to which the reported results are being driven by the weights applied to the data, rather than found in the data itself. Simply put, these design effects tell us how many additional respondents would have been needed to get the weighted number of respondents across weighted categories: larger design effects indicate greater levels of under-representation in the data. In this case, we see design effects of approximately 1.14.

All surveys are subject to sampling error, which is the expected probable difference between interviewing everyone in a population versus a scientific sampling drawn from that population. Sampling error should be adjusted to recognize the effect of weighting the data to better match the population. In this poll, the simple sampling error for 803 registered voters in New Jersey is +/-3.46 percentage points, at a 95 percent confidence interval. Including the design effects, the margin of error would be +/-3.94 percentage points, though the figure not including them is much more commonly reported.

This error calculation does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question wording, or context effects.

 

Weighted Telephone Sample Characteristics

803 New Jersey Registered Voters

Woman                        52%                 N = 407

Man                             47%                 N = 364

Some Other Way          1%                  N = 7

 

18-24                           12%                 N = 93

25-34                           13%                 N = 101

35-44                           13%                 N = 102

45-64                            37%                 N = 293

65+                               25%                 N = 199

 

Democrat (with leaners)              46%                 N = 371

Independent                                22%                 N = 172

Republican (with leaners)            32%                 N = 260

 

White                                       70%           N = 560

Black                                        9%           N = 75

Hispanic                                   8%           N = 61

Asian                                        4%           N = 31

Other                                       10%           N = 77

 

HS or Less                               12%           N = 95

Some College                           31%           N = 246

College degree or more            56%           N = 448

 

 

Question wording and order

NJ1-NJ6 released on 21 June

NJ10. When the pandemic started last year, did you have a job outside of the home, or were you unemployed, a student, retired, or something else?

  1. Job outside of the home
  2. Unemployed
  3. Student
  4. Retired
  5. Something else
  6. [Dk/Ref]

NJ11. [Only those with a job outside the home in NJ10, n=475] After the pandemic started last year, were you able to work from home some of the time, all of the time, or not at all?

  1. Worked from home some of the time
  2. Worked entirely from home
  3. Did not work from home
  4. [Dk/Ref]

NJ12. [Only those who work from home “some of the time” or “entirely”, n=240] How about now? Are you still working from home all of the time, still working from home some of the time, or are you now going into work all of the time?

  1. Still working entirely from home
  2. Still working from home some of the time
  3. Now going into work all the time
  4. [Dk/Ref]

NJ13. [Only those who work from home “some of the time” or “entirely”, n=240] When do you think you’ll start leaving home to go to work every day again?

  1. In the next month or so
  2. Later this year
  3. Next Year
  4. Never
  5. [Dk/Ref]

 

NJ14. [Only those working in NJ10, n=475]  If you were able to choose, would you prefer to work from home, prefer to go in to work, or do you not have a preference?

  1. Prefer to work from home
  2. Prefer to go in to work
  3. No Preference
  4. [Dk/Ref]

NJ15. [Only those working in NJ10, n=475]  When you do go in to work, how do you generally get there?

  1. Drive
  2. Bus
  3. Train
  4. Walk or bicycle
  5. Some other way
  6. [Dk/Ref]

Other questions to be released at a later date

 

 

Release Tables

Sex
Education
When the pandemic started last year, did you have…
Overall
Men
Women
No College Degree
College+
Job Outside of the Home
59
67
52
49
66
Unemployed
7
4
8
8
5
Student
7
5
7
10
4
Retired
19
16
24
23
17
Something Else
8
7
9
9
8
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
0
0
0
1
0

 

Sex
Education
After the pandemic started last year, were you able to work from home some of the time, all of the time, or not at all?
Overall
Men
Women
No College Degree
College+
Worked from Home Some of the Time
22
21
22
16
25
Worked Entirely From Home
29
26
32
14
38
Did Not Work From Home
49
52
46
70
36
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
0
0
0
1
0

 

Sex
Education
How about now? Are you…
Overall
Men
Women
No College Degree
College+
Still working entirely from home
35
39
32
22
40
Still working from home some of the time
28
32
22
33
26
Going into work all the time
27
23
34
33
25
No longer employed
9
5
12
10
9
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
1
1
1
2
1

 

Sex
Education
When do you think you’ll start leaving home to go to work every day again?
Overall
Men
Women
No College Degree
College+
In the next month or so
15
13
16
7
16
Later this year
37
42
32
30
38
Next Year
8
8
8
15
7
Never
26
28
23
33
25
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
14
8
21
15
15
Age
When do you think you’ll start leaving home to go to work every day again?
Overall
18-34
35-64
65+
In the next month or so
15
11
14
27
Later this year
37
39
39
36
Next Year
8
8
9
0
Never
26
22
25
36
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
14
19
14
0

 

Sex
Education
If you were able to choose, would you prefer to work from home, prefer to go in to work, or do you not have a preference?
Overall
Men
Women
No College Degree
College+
Prefer to work from home
18
17
18
12
22
Prefer to go in to work
31
34
29
37
28
Home some, outside some
38
34
40
36
39
No Preference
12
13
11
14
10
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
2
2
1
2
1

 

Age
Education
If you were able to choose, would you prefer to work from home, prefer to go in to work, or do you not have a preference?
Overall
18-34
35-64
65+
No College Degree
College+
Prefer to work from home
18
18
20
6
12
22
Prefer to go in to work
31
18
33
50
37
28
Home some, outside some
38
54
35
17
35
39
No Preference
12
11
10
21
14
10
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
2
0
2
6
2
2

 

Party ID
How about now? Are you…
Overall
Dem
Ind
Rep
Still working entirely from home
35
36
41
30
Still working from home some of the time
28
31
23
19
Going into work all the time
27
26
23
32
No longer employed
9
7
9
14
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
1
0
4
5

 

Party ID
If you were able to choose, would you prefer to work from home, prefer to go in to work, or do you not have a preference?
Overall
Dem
Ind
Rep
Prefer to work from home
18
21
14
13
Prefer to go in to work
31
20
33
47
Home some, outside some
38
46
40
24
No Preference
12
10
10
15
Don’t Know/Refused (Vol)
2
2
2
1

 

Sex
Education
When you do go to work, how do you generally get there?
Overall
Men
Women
No College Degree
College+
Drive
87
84
92
90
85
Bus
4
5
2
6
3
Train
6
9
3
2
8
Walk or Bike
1
1
1
1
1
Some Other Way
1
1
1
1
1
Don’t Know/Refused
1
0
1
0
1

 

 

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