One of the most important socio-economic factors in America is social mobility, the ability of an individual or family to improve (or lower) their economic status. And one of the major factors in increasing social mobility is to simply increase mobility. For example, if you have to walk to work, you are limited to jobs within a few miles of your home. But if you can drive to work, the number of job opportunities available to you may increase considerably.
Most of us who have access to individual means of transportation take that connection for granted. But for the working poor, a car may not only help them get to a place of employment, it can help them drive away from poverty. For instance, a recent study finds that for low-income residents of high-poverty neighborhoods, having access to an automobile can lead to greater economic opportunities:
Housing voucher recipients with cars tended to live and remain in higher-opportunity neighborhoods—places with lower poverty rates, higher social status, stronger housing markets, and lower health risks. Cars are also associated with improved neighborhood satisfaction and better employment outcomes. Among Moving to Opportunity families, those with cars were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to remain employed.
The importance of automobiles arises not due to the inherent superiority of driving, but because public transit systems in most metropolitan areas are slow, inconvenient, and lack sufficient metropolitan-wide coverage to rival the automobile.