Jeramey Jannene

Transit As A Means To Combat Poverty (Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty)

By - Oct 15th, 2008 09:36 pm

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.

The more we design cities for cars the more we’re digging a deeper hole for those living in poverty to get out of. We need a transit system that keeps hard-working people from having to spend 40.2% of their income on a car.

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.


6 thoughts on “Transit As A Means To Combat Poverty (Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty)”

  1. You should check out this report…

    The average family spends 57% on housing and transportation.

  2. Ben says:

    In Milwaukee’s storm of stupidity, public transportation is the biggest, blackest cloud.

    We have been told by awe-inspiringly idiotic conservative radio hosts that a transit system will bring “those kind of people” into our neighborhoods, when in reality what it will do is bring workers to employers. We have been told by a county executive “no taxes no taxes no taxes” when in reality it’s “no parks, no transit, no city.” It’s enough to make you move to the twin cities.

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Ben Yea the issue of public transit and rail in Milwaukee is such a hot potato laced with many layers of issues. That’s why we all need to push our leaders to get this issue resolved and move Milwaukee forward.

  4. m+ke says:

    First time Urban Milwaukee poster here (any special sound effects or anything?).

    This may be a bit bigger picture than purely transit and poverty, but I think many of these discussions revolve around Milwaukee’s current lack of leadership. One of the elements that Milwaukee is missing is a defined mission statement – something that captures the vision of who we are. Not to sound sappy, but without this we are just planning to plan. Without this we do neighborhood study after neighborhood study within the vacuum of that defined area, no connection to the bigger Milwaukee picture. It is almost like the city’s lack of vision has put the development cart before the horse. Here the horse needs to be the city’s plan for how we’re going to progress into future. The follow through of this plan (transit, catalytic projects, tif districts…) becomes the armature that all other development can prosper. There is a reason why we have an influx in housing and business space throughout the city. I’m not on the ‘bring back Norquist’ bandwagon – but when he and Peter Park were leading the city there was a extremely well defined vision of where we were going. For better (park east) or worse (midwest express), at least there was a vision in which to attach development decisions. When they left Milwaukee we had a void in leadership to continue their momentum, the elements of armature have failed to materialize…and the cart is getting ahead of the horse.

    One of the reasons that I, and many of you, continue to live/work/play here is that we see the potential that Milwaukee has. At every corner there is an opportunity to do something special – we need to continue to push toward the positive progression of Milwaukee.

    Here’s a link to a good article about some very progressive cities in Scandinavia. Some of which also provide free public transit.

  5. Dan says:

    Whether you agree or not, let’s assume the racial fear element is a widespread and major factor in the suburban political resistance to transit. Do you think it can be eliminated, or does it have to be circumvented or co-opted by pro-transit interests?

    Are common interest arguments and arguments that appeal to core political values in the burbs likely to be most effective? Or should the pro-transit interest put social justice, racial diversity, environmental justice, etc. up there front and center?

    Can you disingenuously appeal to the altruism of people who at the same time you are calling racists and who don’t believe in tax-funded altruism anyway?

    Can you ice-skate uphill? Why would you want to?

  6. Kofi Bofah says:

    The problems that you listed are not elements that are specific to Milwaukee – but follow a regular patter on issues throughout the entire Rust Belt. Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, Flint, and East St. Louis have all been ravaged by the shift of the U.S. economy to service from manufacturing and boast public transportation networks that are inadequately funded.

    Even Chicago, with its extensive CTA network has large wasteland-like swaths of the city.

    I am not certain if transportation is the total answer. This is a small part of a grander problem. The demise of U.S. manufacturing is really what has burdened the poor – particularly in the Midwest.

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