By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Car-centric cities leave the poor in the dust
One thing that might help people get jobs? A reliable city bus. - photo by Lane Anderson
A lot of things make it easier to get a job education, experience, networks but one of the biggest factors is just how easy, or difficult, it is for a person to get around.

Multiple new studies show that upward mobility, and escaping poverty, often hinges on transportation. A recent Harvard study found that commute time emerged as the largest factor in escaping poverty, beating out other factors like crime and the percentage of two-parent families in a community. In any given county, the longer the average commute time, the worse the chances of low-income earners moving up the income ladder.

The simple answer to why transportation matters so much, according to Brookings research, is that when you have better transportation, you have access to more and better jobs. For poor people who don't own a car, or own just one car for two working parents, that's not a small problem: they're limited to the jobs that are close to their homes, or close to bus and rail lines if public transport is available.

The Brookings report found that the average person in a U.S. metro area can only reach 30 percent of all the jobs in their metropolitan area within 90 minutes. In Miami, Florida, that percentage dropped to 16, in Palm Bay, Florida, it dropped to 7.

"As states and regions strive to put Americans back to work, policymakers should be careful not to sever the transportation lifelines between workers and jobs," the report authors said.

It makes sense that making it easy for people to get to work would help people get a leg up, and public transit appears to be one of the keys to that. University of Utah research found that children born in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum are more likely to climb to the top fifth in cities that are less-sprawling and better-connected through public transportation.

But not all public transportation is equal when it comes to helping low-income workers. A Washington, D.C., study found that train riders had a median income of $102,000, compared to $69,000 for bus riders. One in every five Metrobus riders said they did not have a car in their household, while only one in 50 Metro train riders reported being carless in fact, most train riders reported having two cars at home.

That means that investing in more and better bus lines might be more productive than rail lines that connect more affluent areas.

Predictability is crucial for poor people," Robert Hotchkiss, a low-income San Diego transit user, told Vox. "I would often walk rather than wait on a bus that might or might not come."
Sign up for our E-Newsletters