Sunday, November 6, 2011

What Do the Working Poor Need? More Cars!

Stop the presses! I have officially found the winning entry for the year's foremost example of sheer mainstream media idiocy, personal finance category.

First let me set the table on this one. It is an obvious fact that public transportation in America is woefully inadequate. Unless you live in one of the larger cities, you may well not have any access to such transportation, and even most of the larger cities lack anything as basic as a subway system. Moreover, owning and operating a personal vehicle is a huge drain on the finances of anyone who earns less than the median per capita income of just over $26,000 per year.

No doubt this is a persistent problem for the working poor, who must somehow get to their jobs, go shopping for food and necessities and get their kids off to school every day. A common sense solution would be to do a major overhaul and expansion of our public transportation system, expensive as that would be. But common sense be damned, the Los Angeles Times has a better idea, give those poor people cars:
For more than a century, efforts to help the disadvantaged have focused on education, healthcare, nutrition and housing. Almost nothing has been done to help the working poor afford cars, despite research that indicates it would help alleviate poverty.

About 1 in 4 needy U.S. families do not have a car, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That's a serious handicap for the millions of Americans who don't have access to robust mass transit.

A nationwide survey of 353 people who bought cars with help from a nonprofit group called Ways to Work found that 72% reported an increase in income. Of those who were on public assistance when they acquired a car, 87% were no longer receiving it a few years later.

Other studies have found that low-income people were more involved in community activities and had better access to healthcare after getting cars, while their children participated more frequently in after-school programs.

"You're more likely to have a job and less likely to be fired," said Evelyn Blumenberg, a professor of urban planning at UCLA who studies transportation and poverty. "It's just a no-brainer that low-income families need cars."
Not to be churlish or anything, but UCLA professor Evelyn Blumenburg is a shining example of why America's educational system is deteriorating so rapidly. No, professor, it is NOT a "no-brainer" that these families need cars. It IS, however, a no-brainer that they need access to an adequate public transportation system.

I would sure like to know exactly when the alleged "studies" that show low-income people being better off after getting cars were conducted. In the summer of 2008 or this past year when gas prices shot far above $3.00 a gallon? Or perhaps, as I suspect, back when gasoline was still cheap? Because maybe you haven't noticed this, professor, being stuck up their in your ivory tower and all, but conditions on the ground in the real world have changed dramatically these past few years.

Even more asinine is this little nugget:
Yet there are almost no state or federal programs to meet the need.

The U.S. Transportation Department plans to spend $71 billion this fiscal year on roads and bridges, $22 billion on public transit and more than $8 billion on rail projects, but has allocated no money to help put the poor behind the wheel.

Under the Community Reinvestment Act, the Federal Reserve encourages banks to provide loans to struggling farmers, disadvantaged people hoping to buy homes and small businesses that want to expand — but not to people who need cars to work.
Wow--that is the first time I have ever seen it advocated that it is the federal government's responsibility to make sure people have cars. That is really taking fuzzy-headed, business-as-usual thinking to a whole new level.

But wait, it gets even more absurd. Here is a surreal quote from once of our so-called "leaders" as to why it is better to enable poor people to buy cars than to spend the money on public transportation:
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) has tried for years to get the government to help the poor buy cars. In 2005 and again in 2007, she sponsored legislation to provide $50 million a year for low-income car ownership programs. Both bills died in committee.

She said she has faced resistance from, among others, environmental organizations that insist mass transit is a better solution.

"Public transit is not practical in Milwaukee where the wind chill can be 45 below and you have to drop three kids off at day care," Moore said. "We really have a crisis with respect to getting people to their jobs."
See why we can't have public transportation? Because it's COLD outside sometimes. Geez, why didn't I think of that? I'm such a heartless bastard.

Maybe it's because I grew up in a town not that far away from Milwaukee, and as a child actually had to WALK over a mile to school (what a concept!). And guess what? On those blustery, below-zero winter mornings, well goddam if my mom, instead of coddling me by driving me to school, simply made sure I had on a heavy winter jacket, boots, a scarf and a stocking hat. And I survived! And I didn't even ONCE get frostbite!

I swear I read this article this morning and my head almost exploded. It would have been one thing had this breathtakingly idiotic drivel been published a decade ago when gasoline was still $1.20 a gallon. But now it is nearly three times that price and is only going to go higher over the long term. And that doesn't even include the soaring cost of vehicle maintenance these days, or the rapid deterioration of America's bridges and highways. If the working poor are having trouble being able to afford to keep a car running now, they are going to find it well nigh impossible when gasoline rises to $4.00, $5.00 and even more in the coming years.

I hate to say this, folks, but this kind of thinking, which has not abated one little bit despite the recent major oil price shocks, is exactly why I am convinced that the collapse of the American economy is a foregone conclusion.


  1. The hardest part for me in all of this when I encounter people like that professor who are in absurd denial of reality on the ground.

    Thing is their absurd denial of reality has a very short shelf-life.

    That's where I find my solace.

  2. Most cities are a decade or more away - if they had the money, which they don't - from having adequate DC/NYC style mass transit systems to even come close in alleviating the problem with lack of healthcare access, risk losing your jobs using it, and narrow job availability (most mass transit systems don't have full job accessibility either, and so on.) So yeah, it's true that the poor have fewer options without a car in a dwindling job market, it's just the solution being offered is wrong. The solution was decades ago Bill, the nation is bankrupt and so are we for the most part. There is no tenable solution anymore. Count your blessings you have DC, which in my opinion has other problems.

  3. @Megadoom - sadly, you're probably right.

  4. Most cities do not have the population density required to support effective mass transit. Car manufacturers and the oil companies have influenced planning policies to make public transport unfeasible in most cities.

    People like the 1/20th of an acre that urban sprawl affords them.

  5. @Harry - no doubt you are correct. And as this article pretty well shows, even people who ought to know better cannot even imagine things being done any differently.