What Good Is a Job if You Can't Get to It?

May 18, 2011

By Milla Sanes

Transportation is one of the three largest expenses for low-income families in the United States. With fuel costs on the rise, low- and moderate-income families -- even those with cars -- are  increasingly looking to mass transit to get to work. 

New research from the Brookings Institution shows that there is a lesser-known way the poor pay more than the rest of us: they have to travel farther to get to jobs that match typical skills. Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America, a report and interactive map examined transit in the 100 largest metro areas in the United States and the extent to which people and jobs are connected through these transit systems. The study found that only about a quarter of low- and middle-skill jobs are within a 90 minute commute via transit for the typical commuter, compared to a full third of high-skilled jobs. Residents of growing low-income suburban communities can only access about 22 percent of metropolitan jobs in low- and middle-skill industries on average, demonstrating a wide disconnect between where jobs are available and where people in need of jobs but with little access to transportation live.

As people look for employment and jobs creation increases, there needs to be a focus on bridging this gap. There are 10 billion public transit trips taken every year, and this is trending upward. The Brookings report spells out three ways to move forward: make job access part of total transportation decision making, link accessibility to next-generation metro growth policy and practice, and deploy data and advanced technologies for decision making. While each metropolitan area has its own distinctive obstacles, the focus should be on connecting the places we live and work - across all economic groups. Organizations such as PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity and The Pew Center on the States are also looking at how transportation is impacting our economic future.

Job creation needs to be at the top of the list in aiding the economic recovery. But because it's not enough to create jobs if people can't get to them, smart transit planning has a role to play in putting us on a path to sustainable economic recovery for all Americans.



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