This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the proportion of Montanans working from home spiked dramatically in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bureau reports that in 2021 about 14% of Montana workers, approximately 33,000 people in total, worked home-based jobs — up from about 7% in 2019. The trend was particularly pronounced in the Bozeman, Missoula, Kalispell and Helena areas, though also notable around the state’s two other major urban centers, Billings and Great Falls.

In Bozeman’s Gallatin County, for example, the figures indicate that between 14% and 22% of workers were home-based as of 2021, a roughly three-fold increase over 2019.

These numbers come from the bureau’s American Community Survey program, which, in contrast to decennial censuses that aim to count every American, surveys a portion of the population on a more frequent basis.

While these numbers are widely used as a proxy for remote work, with its connotation of MacBook-toting professionals dialing into jobs in San Francisco or Seattle, they actually come from a survey question designed to gather information about Americans’ commutes (respondents who work outside the home are also asked, for example, whether they walk to work or carpool). As such, the numbers also represent workers who work from home for Montana employers at least part of the time, as well as those who hold more traditional home-based jobs such as selling Avon makeup or Tupperware.

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Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.