Getting a job can be an interesting experience. Sometimes a new opportunity practically falls into one’s lap; other times, finding the right employment can be a tough road to travel.
But what if you’ve had the satisfying experience of finding the right job, but literally can’t get there?
Access to gainful employment is one of the most basic pillars of the economy and our lives, and will remain so, at least until telework becomes the norm. And even then, Central Maryland’s robust cybersecurity sector cannot easily adapt to telework. Anyone who commutes through the Fort Meade region at rush hour understands.
Now, imagine you don’t live near public transit and can’t afford a car to access a viable employment opportunity — traffic frustrations notwithstanding.
According to AAA, the total cost to commute 30 miles round-trip in a car with average fuel-efficiency, including every aspect of car ownership and maintenance, is about 75 cents a mile. To put it in perspective, the federal travel reimbursement rate is 53.5 cents a mile. This also means that someone working full-time, at $15 an hour, would have to spend more than 18% of his or her annual gross (not take-home) income to commute 250 workdays a year.
Our region is fortunate to have low unemployment and broad job availability. Yet, just as there are skill mismatches to available jobs, there are worksite mismatches for available workforce — and not owning a car narrows choices for this class of worker, just as it narrows access to needed workforce for employers whose worksites are not transit-accessible.
Also, know that there is a steep cost to a business each time it has to rehire and retrain workers, regardless of the class of employee, and commuter transportation access has been broadly identified by employers as a major factor in costly job turnover rates.
There have been past remedies that can be modeled. Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) was a program funded by the federal government as part of Clinton-era welfare reform between 1998 and 2014. JARC invested in Empowerment Zones in inner city Baltimore and successfully connected huge numbers of local, low-income, transit-dependent workers to worksites that otherwise would have been inaccessible; since, however, the only job seekers receiving federal job access funding have been the elderly and disabled, leaving the majority of job-seekers and their potential employers out of luck.
However, the problem need not be as intractable, nor the solution as onerous, as one might think.
Short-distance shuttles can collect large numbers of transit-dependent workers at mass transit hubs and take them directly to proximal employment centers at shift times. This “small-ball” transit model is very inexpensive, simple to establish and need not impact nearby residential neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, such action helps employers that require access to workforce gain better access and successfully grow their businesses. A worker who can access gainful employment has greater spending power to churn the local economy (and thus create more local jobs) and may be weaned off of the “public dole” (if that situation applies).
And they begin paying payroll taxes, from day one. It’s a classic win-win.
Ben Cohen is director of transportation and workforce programs at The BWI Business Partnership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.