Magazine article Reason

Picket Fences: Can Government Keep Up with Changes in How We Work?

Magazine article Reason

Picket Fences: Can Government Keep Up with Changes in How We Work?

Article excerpt

Not long ago workers left their suburban homes in the morning and went to their 9-5 job downtown. For most workers, that's still the case. But a growing number of Americans are working at home at least part-time, and government planners are having trouble adjusting to the changes.

Technological advances and the transition toward a decentralized, information-based economy have made working at home affordable and desirable for many Americans. An estimated 39 million Americans do some work at home now, including 13 million who run home-based businesses. The rise of home businesses is blurring the traditional distinctions between residential and commercial uses. But zoning laws have been based on enforcing those divisions. Running a business out of the home is a crime in many places, though enforcement is usually limited to situations in which a neighbor complains.

"Most zoning ordinances still in effect are antiquated. Even the new stuff is not much better," says Michael Wiley, executive director of the Home Office Association of America.

The city of Chicago recently lifted its ban on home businesses, but Wiley cites the new rules as a prime example of what not to do. Home business owners must pay a $150 annual license fee, employees must be residents of the home, no more than 10 percent of the home can be used for business purposes, and house additions or alternations that will be used for home businesses are not permitted.

Working at home will also create headaches for transportation officials, according to WorkSmart, a new study by the Denver-based Center for the New West for the California Department of Transportation. …

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