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This paper evaluates the use of commuting zones as a local labor market definition. We revisit Tolbert and Sizer (1996) and demonstrate the sensitivity of definitions to two features of the methodology. We show how these features impact empirical estimates using a well-known application of commuting zones. We conclude with advice to researchers using commuting zones on how to demonstrate the robustness of empirical findings to uncertainty in definitions.


The analysis, conclusions, and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Census Bureau or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. All results have been reviewed to ensure that no confidential information is disclosed, and no confidential data was used in this paper. This document is released to inform interested parties of ongoing research and to encourage discussion of work in progress. Much of the work developing this paper occurred while Mark Kutzbach was an employee of the U.S. Census Bureau. Vilhuber acknowledges funding under NSF 1131848 (NCRN),