The Road Out of Poverty

New Frontier Centre study recommends provinces drop restrictions on automobile ownership for Canadians on income assistance.
Published on October 5, 2009

Executive Summary

There exists a large and convincing body of research on the role car ownership plays in employment. Automobility—access to a vehicle for personal daily use—confers substantial benefits in finding and keeping a job, hours worked and income. This evidence is particularly crucial for social assistance recipients attempting to move from welfare to work.

The link between car ownership and employment is simple and intuitive. Having access to a car permits greater flexibility in searching for employment than is possible when relying on public transit. This means a wider job search, a larger potential selection of jobs, and a better match between employment and individual skills. After employment is found, having a car reduces absenteeism and makes the commute easier.

Automobility confers additional advantages on busy families, as it allows for multiple stops while commuting, accommodating trips to child care, school, shopping and the like.

Given the preponderance of evidence from U.S. data, there has been a substantial response by U.S. non-profi t organizations and governments. Numerous programs match social assistance recipients with inexpensive cars. Many state governments have removed vehicle asset tests from social assistance applications, further recognizing the role played by car ownership in overcoming barriers to employment.

However, other policies, including the muchpublicized Cash for Clunkers program, may work to hinder automobility.

In Canada, almost no attention has been paid to this issue in the academic literature
or within the non-profit or public sectors. In addition, the four largest provinces continue to impose vehicle asset tests as a requirement for social assistance eligibility. In Canada, much can be done to improve automobility.

This paper was written with two purposes in mind. First, it aims to introduce the large body of compelling U.S. research on automobility to a Canadian audience. Second, it makes several policy recommendations with the goal of improving automobility for low-income Canadians.

View Full Study as PDF (25 pages)

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