NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 10, 2004

Automobiles have become critical for commuters because most jobs are not in downtown centers. Job dispersal trends are not a problem for the many households that can and do choose to move away from central cities. The vast majority of suburbanites own cars. For the poor, however, job dispersal poses a major employment barrier, say researchers at the Oregon-based Cascade Policy Institute.

Nationally, three-fourths of welfare recipients live in central cities or rural areas, while two-thirds of new jobs are located in the suburbs. Those jobs may not be far away in terms of geography (frequently five to fifteen miles), but they are so inaccessible by public transit that they may as well be on the moon.

According to Cascade:

  • Car ownership improves the likelihood of being employed by 80 percent and increased the average wage by about $275 a week.
  • A high school diploma plays no significant role in explaining the differences in employment rates.
  • Raising minority car-ownership rates to white car-ownership levels would eliminate 45 percent of the black-white employment rate differential and 17 percent of the comparable Latino-white differential, according to a study by Steve Raphael of the University of California-Berkeley.

CPI says that Portland's anti-car policies, including its billion-dollar fixed rail system, have not served the poor well. In particular, rail transit is used primarily by middle-class commuters who already own a car and is irrelevant to the urban poor seeking work in the suburbs.

Source: John A. Charles, "Reduce Unemployment through Auto Ownership," Cascade Policy Institute, summer 2004.


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