As the U.S.' unemployment numbers stagnate around 9 percent, policymakers from the president downwards are struggling to find ways to get people back to work.
Those promoting public policy might consider improving public transportation as a way to strengthen local economies. The Obama administration has made recent investments in high-speed rail and other national-level infrastructure initiatives.
But the solution could be more localized. If a recent study by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program is any indication, cities with more effective public transportation programs may be better able to recover from economic slumps than those with poor public transit options.
According to the study's writers, around 700,000 homes in the 100 largest metropolitan areas lack access to personal vehicles or public transportation. This means that people without cars who live out of walking or biking range of a potential job are likely to be excluded from a work opportunity in an inaccessible part of town. In cities with better public transit, people who do not have a personal vehicle and are looking for work have a much wider range of jobs open to them.
The fact that public transportation can be in itself a barrier to access to employment and education has led groups like the Leadership Conference Education Fund to see transportation as a civil rights issue.
Poor public transit creates economic problems beyond job availability: it also reduces property values, which can create further problems for a community struggling economically.
It's no surprise that the Obama administration has recently poured money into national infrastructure projects. But local solutions might go a long way towards facilitating economic recovery for struggling communities. Not only would these investments generate construction and manufacturing jobs, and increase property values, but people without a car might have access to jobs that were previously out of reach, at least geographically speaking.
Photo: Flickr/Scot Campbell