Having a set of wheels opens the door to employment opportunities and boosts earning power, according to a recent study released by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
The study, The Road Out of Poverty: Lowering Barriers to Employment Through Automobile Ownership authored by Peter Taylor, an editor-at-large for Maclean’s magazine, looks at how some government policies might be a barrier to automobile ownership and thus employment.
For example, 38 per cent of social assistance recipients in Saskatchewan reported that finding reliable transportation to work was a barrier to employment, the study stated.
Peter Gilmer with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, said one of the realities is that there hasn’t been a transportation allowance across the board for persons on social assistance in Saskatchewan since 1987.
“There was a separate transportation allowance that everybody on social assistance had. That was done away with in 1987. There are certain types of mobility travel for persons with disabilities, but the travel allowance was just wrapped into the basic adult living allowance without actually any increases,” Gilmer said.
While most of the report is based on American research, as little work has been done in this area in Canada, Taylor said there are a lot of similarities between the two countries.
U.S. research shows that welfare recipients with access to a car are able to reach 59 times more employment opportunities than welfare recipients forced to rely on the bus alone.
Smaller cities like Regina and Saskatoon don’t have subways and while bus service exists, it is not comprehensive in any way, Taylor said, explaining buses often don’t service new subdivisions or run in the off-hours.
“There is always this assumption that people on welfare and low-income earners can just use the bus and that is the most appropriate form of transportation for them,” said Taylor, adding riding the bus is not necessarily the best alternative to owning a car.
While Saskatchewan doesn’t impose a vehicle asset test for social assistance eligibility, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec do, Taylor noted.
“I think it is a bad idea to force people to sell their car or trade down to a lesser, unreliable model in order to get social assistance because the whole point is to get (people on welfare) back into the workforce,” he said.
Taylor‘s report recommends non-profit organizations investigate the feasibility of programs — similar to those in the U.S. and Britain — that help low-income earners gain access to cars and governments review their policies to determine whether they create transportation barriers to employment.