Lack of transit and poverty

Important and surprising New York Times article entitled “Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty”. Reporting on research at Harvard the Times reports:

In a large, continuing study of upward mobility based at Harvard, commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.

The relationship between transportation and social mobility is stronger than that between mobility and several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community, said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and one of the researchers on the study.

That the availability of transportation––which for many low income families means public transit––is the single strongest factor in escaping poverty; stronger than crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families is astonishing. And in many ways encouraging. Dealing with crime, education and single parent households is really difficult. Providing quality public transportation is far easier and relatively inexpensive.

The Atlantic in an article entitled: “Why Great Transit Is Worth Loads of Money to Local Businesses” reports on a study that also highlights the importance of transit to the poor. The Atlantic reports:

Economics scholars Dagney Faulk and Michael Hicks of Ball State University analyzed employee turnover rates among manufacturers and retailers in Rust Belt counties with and without bus operations between 1998 and 2010. In a new paper in Urban Studies, they report, quite simply, that “counties with transit systems have lower turnover rates”—a win for workers, businesses, and the broader economy alike.

The researchers write: “These results suggest that access to fixed-route bus transit should be a component of the economic development strategy for low-income communities not only for the access to jobs that it provides low-income workers but also for the benefit provided to businesses that hire these workers.”

All of this is more evidence that a quality public transportation system should be a top priority for Michigan policy makers at both the state and regional levels. Yes we need to fix our roads. And we need a comprehensive public transit system. The evidence is clear: both are important ingredients to economic well being.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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