In the last eight months, I have put 12,736 miles on my car for my job, which requires me to travel and engage with civic leaders across the 18 counties of Northeast Ohio. Without a car, I could not effectively perform my job. I am not alone. Increasingly in Northeast Ohio, employment is contingent upon having reliable access to a vehicle. Without one, many jobseekers are stuck in a cycle of no car, no job, no job, no car.
How do we break this cycle?
Let’s look at how we got into this trap in the first place. Over the last few decades, our region has expanded outward without the population and job growth that would justify such expansion. As a result, all residents—urban, suburban, rural—have experienced a steep decline in the number of jobs around them. Brookings Institution research tells us the number of jobs near the average Cleveland resident declined 27 percent between 2000 and 2012; that balloons to a 35 percent decline for residents living in high-poverty neighborhoods. The distance between people and jobs is growing in places across America, but this trend hits us particularly hard. Greater Cleveland ranked dead last in the loss of jobs near the average resident.
This outmigration makes effective public transportation challenging (and our state doesn’t have much of an appetite to fix this). What’s more, data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 26 percent of all households in Cleveland do not have a vehicle. As jobs locate further away from our core cities and public transportation options remain limited, it’s not a surprise to see an increase in the number of people living in concentrated poverty in our region. We are effectively stranding thousands of our brothers and sisters. This is bad for those individuals, but also for our region’s overall prosperity.
At the Fund for our Economic Future, we care deeply about economic growth that is paired with increased access to opportunity (indeed, our research and experience underscore that these are mutually reinforcing propositions), and our strategy centers on a framework that calls for job creation, job preparation and job access solutions. To improve access to jobs in Northeast Ohio, we focus on bringing more jobs closer to people who need them and better connecting people to existing jobs.
Our region needs to improve our land use policies and leverage incentives to bring more jobs closer to people and improve our Geography of Jobs. We can do this through better use of our existing infrastructure in our cities to attract employers to locate in well-connected areas. Whether it is designing a 21st century urban job hub along the Opportunity Corridor in Cleveland or enhancing the job hub along the 422 corridor in Youngstown, our region must advance an economic development strategy that prioritizes our assets while improving the proximity of jobs to people.
At the same time, our Fund is also focused on better connecting people to jobs with improved public transportation and with innovative transit solutions that reduce the costs and time for jobseekers to get to work across our region.
All of these efforts require collaboration, time, resources, strategy—but there are solutions and we are working with many others in the community to make them happen.
But first, there needs to be an underlying understanding of the challenges that exist—challenges that prevent our residents from accessing employment and our region from realizing its full economic potential.
We need our brothers and sisters to share their stories of how it feels to be stranded.
My daily reality (and odometer) clearly reminds me of the connection between transportation and employment, but that story plays out across our region every day. What is your job access story? Who do you know that is stranded in the cycle of no car, no job, no job, no car? We need your stories to amplify this message, text Stranded to 22828, and someone from our staff will follow up with you.
Because together, armed with a clear understanding of the challenge and a vision for the potential solutions, we can connect the disconnected and make increased prosperity a reality.