Left Behind in an Auto-dominated Landscape: the Role of Cars in Economic Mobility, 1968-2013

Does access to an automobile play a more important role in economic upward mobility today than in the past? Jobs and people—including many low-income families—have moved to the suburbs, leading to an increased reliance on cars to get to and from work. Low-income families without access to automobiles may be increasingly “left behind” in the contemporary economic geography of the United States. As a result, job seekers in many US neighborhoods will find it difficult to find and keep a job without access to a reliable car. The authors test whether the relationship between car ownership, public transportation, and employment outcomes has become stronger over time using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) from 1968 through 2015. The authors find that having a car in one panel wave is a strong predictor of future employment and higher earnings one year later. Transportation’s role in securing employment has grown rapidly in recent years, though its association with earnings once employed appears to have peaked in the 1980s or 90s. Furthermore, transportation appears to play a considerably stronger and growing role in the economic outcomes of women and recipients of government assistance.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This paper was sponsored by TRB committee ADD10 Standing Committee on Transportation and Economic Development.
  • Corporate Authors:

    Transportation Research Board

  • Authors:
    • Smart, Michael J
    • Klein, Nicholas J
  • Conference:
  • Date: 2019


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 17p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01697816
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: 19-03646
  • Files: TRIS, TRB, ATRI
  • Created Date: Dec 7 2018 9:38AM