Driving out of poverty

aiga_bus_on_grn_circle-512A new study on the relationship between access to transportation and exiting poverty caught my attention:

But a new study co-led by myself; Evelyn Blumenberg from the University of California, Los Angeles; and Casey Dawkins from the University of Maryland suggests there is at least one group that may need help to drive more, not less: low-income residents of high-poverty neighborhoods.

Our evidence comes from two Department of Housing and Urban Development demonstration programs: Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing and Welfare to Work Vouchers. Both were designed to test whether housing choice vouchers—that is, subsidies that allowed participants to choose where they live—propelled low-income households into greater economic security.

Taken together, data sets from these studies allowed us to examine neighborhood quality, neighborhood satisfaction, and employment outcomes for almost 12,000 families from 10 cities: Atlanta, Augusta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Fresno, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Spokane.

The results? Housing voucher recipients with cars tended to live and remain in higher-opportunity neighborhoods—places with lower poverty rates, higher social status, stronger housing markets, and lower health risks. Cars are also associated with improved neighborhood satisfaction and better employment outcomes. Among Moving to Opportunity families, those with cars were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to remain employed.

The importance of automobiles arises not due to the inherent superiority of driving, but because public transit systems in most metropolitan areas are slow, inconvenient, and lack sufficient metropolitan-wide coverage to rival the automobile.

When asked about Dawn Farm’s success, we make it clear we’ve had a lot of good fortune, a lot of help from good friends and we’ve made some good decisions. We also point out that we are fortunate to be in a community with good public transportation and job opportunities.

I have a few thoughts. First, this speaks to the challenge of trying to replicate our housing and support services in a different environment.

Second, so many alcoholics seeking treatment have suspended driver licenses and the suspensions seem to be getting longer and longer. I’m not necessarily a proponent of easing those suspensions—drunk driving is dangerous, though sobriety courts seem like s good strategy for managing the risk. But, this study speaks to how debilitating losing a license can be in socio-economic terms. But, how about in terms of recovery?

This also speaks to the power of the informal networks that people find in mutual aid groups that help with transportation.

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