I can’t get to my job

Bob lives in a low-rent district of Atlanta. (I don’t know Bob. I just made him up.) He’s been looking for a job since the Great Recession. But the only work he can find for which he’s qualified is in the suburbs, several miles from his residence. He can’t afford a car, so he tries public transportation. Then the fun starts.

Writing for Vox, Joseph Stromberg tells us that there are lots of “Bobs” out there—and, shall we say, “Sallies.” Because of their economic circumstances, they must rely on public transport to get from home to job and back again.

One of the basic problems here is called spatial mismatch: the fact that millions of low-income urban households are located far from the suburban places where jobs are often available. Danielle Kurtzleben’s Vox article on spatial mismatch is a great primer on the issue.

Part of the root cause of this mismatch is historical. Starting in the 1950s, extensive highway systems were built through almost every major US city, linking them with budding suburbs. Along with other factors, this led many wealthy, white residents to flee cities, initially commuting in for work on the highways.

Employers eventually followed them, bringing workplaces to the suburbs and leaving fewer jobs in the cities. Since at least the 1990s, the majority of suburbanites commute to the suburbs for work. “The dominant pattern today,” says Alan Pisarski, a commuting researcher, “is suburb to suburb.”

Nevertheless, a huge swath of Americans stubbornly resist funding public infrastructure, including transportation. Anything involving governments is automatically suspect, and the public sector is all about governments.

Seattle is adding thousands of new jobs, led by Amazon and Paul Allen’s myriad ventures. But the city is unable or unwilling to accommodate many of these new workers. As demand for housing soars, supply can’t keep pace, driving up shelter costs. (Knute Berger reports on escalating Seattle rents here.)

The head of the Master Builders Association pens on op-ed for the Seattle Times, calling for housing accommodation by local governments. He writes:

Instead of resisting our region’s expected growth and enacting policies that subtract from our very limited buildable land supply, local governments should work within their communities to expand housing supply and choices for families.

Proffered solutions abound. Achieving meaningful consensus, not so much.