Getting to Work | Effective State Solutions

Jaime Rall 6/3/2015

Effective State Solutions to Help People With Transportation Challenges Access Jobs

Every day, millions of Americans go to work. Whether in a car or in a van, by bus or by train, on a bike or on foot, more travel occurs to get to work than for any other purpose: As of 2013, nearly one of every five miles traveled in the United States was on a commute, not including other work-related trips such as making deliveries or going to meetings.

For many Americans, however, getting to work isn’t so easy. People with disabilities and low incomes, in particular, face commuting challenges that can make it much more difficult for them to find and keep good jobs that support them and their families. This report details state policies and programs that are helping people who have mobility challenges easily get to and from work, which not only improves their career options and quality of life, but also revitalizes the workforce.

What Are the Challenges?

At nearly 20 percent of the population, people with disabilities are one of the nation’s largest minority groups. They are also more likely to be unemployed. The most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show that only 18 percent of people with disabilities are working, compared to 64 percent of people without disabilities.

Transportation is Wheelchair Buscertainly an issue. Although transportation accessibility has advanced in the last decade, according to the National Council on Disability, problems persist.

In 2012, people with disabilities who were not working reported lack of transportation as one of their biggest barriers to employment. Further, a survey of job searchers with disabilities in New Jersey found that a quarter of them had left a job, and almost half had refused a job offer, because of travel difficulties. People with disabilities who rely on public transit may find it especially challenging to navigate the distance from their homes and workplaces to transit stations and stops. Where public transit isn’t available, other accessible transportation options often are in short supply.

“Of course, disability is not the only determining factor in whether transportation is a problem; income continues to play a large role,” reports the National Organization on Disability.

A survey the organization conducted with the Kessler Foundation in 2010 found that “inadequate transportation continues to be a greater problem for people with incomes of $15,000 or less, among those both with and without disabilities.” In that survey, 25 percent of nondisabled respondents who had annual household incomes at or below $15,000 identified transportation as a problem, compared to just 13 percent of those who earned $35,000 or more.

For low-income people, lack of reliable transportation is often a significant obstacle to finding work. They may live far from available jobs, struggle to afford transportation costs, or have inadequate access to public transit, especially in rural and suburban areas. For families that balance work, job training and child care, it can be even tougher to get where they need to be.

The challenge of connecting low-income people with work opportunities has worsened with the rapid rise of suburban poverty. From 2000 to 2012, according to the Broookings Institution, poverty in U.S. suburbs grew by 65 percent, more than twice the urban growth rate. As a result, the suburbs are now home to more than a third of the nation's poor, compared to less than a quarter in 1970. At the same time, it has become harder for low-income suburban families to get to jobs. During the same 12-year period, high-poverty tracts in suburban areas saw the number of jobs within a typical commuting distance drop by 17 percent, compared to declines of 7 percent for all suburban residents and just 3 percent for city dwellers.

As the U.S. labor force continues to age, the need for viable ways to get to work may become even more pressing. Increasing numbers of older adults—who are more likely to have disabilities—are staying in or returning to the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the share of the U.S. labor force made up of people age 55 and older nearly doubled from 1992 to 2012, from 11.8 percent to 20.9 percent. Add to this the aging of the baby-boom generation, and it is projected that by 2022, 1 in 4 workers will be an older adult. These older workers will need effective, convenient transportation options as well.

Read the Full Report

This report was funded via a partnership with the Federal Transit Administration.

About the author: Jaime Rall is a freelance writer and former NCSL transportation policy staffer.