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Commutes in this city are the longest in the US—and it's not NYC or San Francisco

Los Angeles freeway traffic.
George Rose | Getty Images
Los Angeles freeway traffic.

The New York and San Francisco metro areas are notorious for their hectic rush hours and frequent traffic jams. In New York City, in fact, "one in 10 residents walks to work every day," a study from online life-insurance agency Haven Life finds, but its "questionable whether this is because of proximity or because it's faster than using any other form of transit."

Still, neither takes the title of U.S. city where workers have the longest commutes. The winner is Palmdale, California, which is part of North Los Angeles County, where 35 percent of the population commutes over two hours round-trip each day.

To find where workers spend the most time in transit, Haven Life used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to calculate the "average round-trip commute time and other statistics about its residents' journey to work," such as the ratio of working hours to commuting hours and the percentage of workers commuting over two hours a day.

Based on the data, here are commuting stats in Palmdale:

Palmdale, California

Average round-trip commute: 85.4 minutes
Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 5.3:1
Population commuting two-plus hours round-trip per day: 35 percent

More than 91 percent of Palmdale residents drive to and from work, the study finds, while only 2 percent use public transit. Less than 1 percent walk or bike (0.8 and 0.2 percent, respectively).

That could be because of how far they have to go: Many residents "make the long trek to Los Angeles and back. No major roadways connect Palmdale straight to Los Angeles," says Haven Life "meaning residents must first circumvent the Angeles National Forest before navigating Los Angeles traffic."

The city, it concludes, "has the worst round-trip commute of any city in the nation."

Haven Life: Increasing commute times for U.S. workers

While New York City and Jersey City don't have average commute times that are quite as long as those in Palmdale, they still rank No. 2 and No. 3 on Haven Life's list:

New York, New York

Average round-trip commute: 81.6 minutes
Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 5.8:1
Population commuting two-plus hours round-trip per day: 26.1 percent

In New York City, more than 56 percent of workers commute via public transit, according to the study, while 27 percent drive, 10 percent walk and 1.2 percent ride a bike.

Jersey City, New Jersey

Average round-trip commute: 73.6 minutes
Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.4:1
Population commuting two-plus hours round-trip per day: 18.7 percent

Nearly half, 48 percent, of Jersey City residents take public transit to and from work, while 38 percent drive, 8 percent walk and 0.4 percent opt to bike.

No matter the mode of transportation, long commutes are common on both coasts: "True to the Golden State's reputation for long commutes and traffic jams, four of the 10 cities with the longest commutes are in California," says Haven Life. "The New York metropolitan area is also notable, with New York City, Newark, Jersey City and Yonkers all making the list."

And lengthy commutes are becoming more common across the country: "Americans' daily commutes have been increasing for nearly three decades," the report finds. "Since 1990, the average worker has added a full eight minutes to their commute."

The uptick in commute times "coincides with a decrease in the number of Americans with very short commutes (less than 20 minutes round trip), which slid from 14.3 percent of workers in 2009 to 12.7 percent in 2017," as fewer people live close to their jobs.

Arduous commutes, on top of long hours at work, are part of why many Americans are dissatisfied with their employment situations, studies show. One found that adding just 20 minutes to your commute could make you as unhappy as taking a 19 percent pay cut. Another found that 23 percent of workers have quit a job because of a bad commute.

Still, nationwide, one in 36 commuters is a "super commuter" who spends more than 90 minutes just getting to work, a report from real-estate website Apartment List found.

Some make a choice to live far away so they can get more space for their money. Danny Finlay, a 30-year-old account elective in San Francisco, travels four hours and 140 miles every day from Dixon, California, so he can live in a three-bedroom home with a swimming pool. He estimates he saves $15,000 to $18,000 per year by not living in the Bay Area.

Other super-commuters are doing what they must, living far from their jobs because exurbs or outer boroughs are all they can afford. Sydney Bennet, a senior research associate at Apartment List, explains that could be because many jobs are concentrated in cities where high housing costs can push workers further out, particularly in cities in California and New York.

The commute might be the necessary trade-off for them, Bennet tells CNBC Make It: "So, maybe they don't want to live in an urban city, but that's where the jobs are, and so they make that sacrifice to live where they want to live."

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