Transit As A Means To Combat Poverty (Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty)
This post is part of Urban Milwaukee’s participation in Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty.
Poverty as defined by Princeton’s Wordnet is “the state of having little or no money and few or no material possessions.” Too often people believe poverty means unemployment. It does not.
Those that are unemployed likely do live in poverty, but there are a significant number of people that live in poverty and have jobs. In 2006 Milwaukee had the eighth-highest rate of poverty of large US cities, with 26.2% of people living below the federal poverty line. To put that percentage to an actual headcount, 26.2% of the city of Milwaukee’s population is 143,000 people. By comparison, Wisconsin’s poverty rate is 11% accounting for 581,000 residents, nearly 200,000 of which are children.
How does transit play a role in poverty?
Transportation is a major expense. While the average American household spends 19.3% of its income on transit-related expenses, a household making less than $13,908 (after taxes) spends 40.2% of its take home pay on transit. Almost 95% of those transportation dollars are going towards paying for a private automobile. For those making $13,900 to $27,176, it doesn’t get much better, with 25.3% of income going to household transportation expenses.
Investment in public mass transit solutions is a must for communities. In Milwaukee County we have struggled with our funding source (currently using undedicated funds from property tax revenue). This struggle has hurt the Milwaukee County Transit System and the community at large. And while many of us reading this can easily swallow a fare increase from $1.60 to $2.00, there are plenty of Milwaukeeans that can’t. Every service cut and fare hike makes it harder for hard-working people to get out of poverty. While we spend millions on job training programs every year, it’s important that those with jobs aren’t spending a disproportionate amount of their precious and scarce dollars on transportation.
Milwaukee needs a dedicated funding source for its transit. The revenue from the funding source can be put towards the system to upgrade the quality of service and lower fares. If Milwaukee County Transit System can save people both time and money, fewer tax dollars are going to be sunk into other programs to counteract poverty. A well-funded transit system will simply leave more money in the pockets of riders, especially those that are forced to count their pennies.
Milwaukee needs a well-funded transit system to serve as a piece of the puzzle to get people out of poverty.