Public transportation can be a ride out of poverty

June 11, 2015 - 2 minutes read

Boston Globe – By Rosabeth Moss Kanter on 

WHEN POLICY MAKERS talk about solutions to inequality, they usually focus on education and jobs. But this conversation largely ignores the need for improved transportation infrastructure to provide access to these jobs and schools. Through better transportation, American cities can provide opportunities for millions to escape poverty. Yet infrastructure improvement wanes, with Washington unable to do anything despite bipartisan support.

Public transit can be a ride out of poverty. The cities identified by Raj Chetty, an economics professor at Harvard University, as having the highest chances for a person moving from the bottom fifth to the top fifth of income across generations are the cities ranked as having the best public transportation, as my research found. Five of the top ten cities for physical mobility — New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Seattle — are also in the top ten for social mobility. Of course many other factors are at play, but good public transportation is among them.

Access is the ticket. People from neighborhoods that lack reliable transportation are stuck and can’t find opportunity. For example, Chicago ranks sixth in public transit in general but 53d out of the 100 largest US metropolitan areas in labor market access, with only 22.8 percent of residents able to reach their jobs using public transit in 90 minutes or less, according to a Brookings Institution study, which accounts for especially high unemployment in underserved neighborhoods. In Massachusetts, a survey of Latinos in low-income areas by Northeastern University found that limited public transportation adversely affected finances, job choices, and ability to get to health care appointments.

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