Commuting Expenses of the Working Poor

Commuting Expenses of the Working Poor

The U.S. working poor1 totaled more than 9 million (6 percent of all workers) in 1999 [1]. Half of these workers spent almost 10 percent of their income on commuting expenses in that year2 (figure 39). This is over twice the percentage of income that the median of the total population spent on commuting (4 percent). This disparity grows to four times when compared with the median for workers earning $45,000 or more per year (2 percent of income).

Half of all workers who use their own vehicles spent 5 percent or more of their income in 1999 on commuting (figure 40). However, among the working poor using their own vehicle, half spent at least 21 percent of their income on commuting. For all workers taking public transit, half spent 3 percent or more of their income, compared with the median for the working poor of 13 percent of their income.3 Most workers used their own vehicle to commute in 1999; however, the working poor were more likely than other groups to use alternative commuting modes. For instance, 87 percent of workers earning $22,000 or more per year used their own vehicle to commute, compared with 66 percent of the working poor. A substantial number of the working poor used the less expensive options of carpool or vanpool (12 percent), public transit (6 percent), biking or walking (11 percent), or commuted some other way (8 percent).

See box for Commuting Expenses Data

Source

1. U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Annual Demographic Survey, March Supplement, table 10, available at http://ferret.bls.census.gov/macro/032000/pov/new10_001.htm, as of March 2003.

1 The official government poverty line for a single adult with no dependents was $8,501 in 1999. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002, http://www.census.gov/hhes/poverty/threshld/thresh99.html) Here, the working poor are defined as workers with an annual personal income of less than $8,000.

2 Data are in current 1999 dollars. For further information, see U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Commuting Expenses: Disparity for the Working Poor, Issue Brief (Washington, DC: 2003).

3 In this analysis, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that 0.5 percent of workers reported using both their own vehicle and public transit to commute. Overall, 2 percent of workers reported using multiple modes.