Hurricane-Related Transportation Shutdowns Will Hurt Low-Income Workers The Most

At Naked Capitalism, Yves Smith notes that the anticipated lengthy shutdown of New York City’s subway in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is likely to hit low-income workers the hardest:

What is going to happen to these people for the week or more while the subway is put back into service? The five boroughs has income disparity as high as China. Many of these people are modestly paid hourly workers, and some will be hit hard by the loss of even a week of income. These are the people you might or might not notice, yet are critical to the functioning of the city: the janitors, the cooks and delivery men, the people who run newsstands and dry cleaners and cobblers and food carts, the people who do secretarial and clerical work in businesses large and small throughout the city.

This is true not just in New York City, but most places that mass transit has been affected by the storm. “The costs of owning and operating a vehicle are such that ten percent of American households in the nation’s largest metro areas do not have access to a private vehicle,” according to a report by the Brookings Institution. “Compared to their car-owning counterparts, zero-vehicle households are more likely to earn low incomes, live in cities, and take public transportation to work.”

And transportation closures also disproportionately affect minorities. As the research organization PolicyLink has found, “nineteen percent of African Americans and 13.7 percent of Latinos lack access to automobiles, compared with 4.6 percent of whites. Poverty complicates the problem: 33 percent of poor African Americans and 25 percent of poor Latinos lack automobile access, compared with 12.1 percent of poor whites.”

Lack of mass transit is increasingly preventing low-income workers from accessing jobs. Of course, there’s nothing to do about a hurricane wreaking havoc with the mass transit system, but it shows just how important those systems are to the least fortunate workers.