Think about your day yesterday. Where did you go? What did you do? How much of your day was spent in your car? And how much of your day would have been very difficult or impossible without your car?
Now, think back to your teens or young adulthood. When did you get your first car? How was it paid for? What about the gas and insurance on that first car? Where did that money come from?
These questions are at the front of my mind this month as I attend the college graduations of a couple of my young friends who grew up in poverty in Atlanta. When we discuss what’s next for them, the answer always has to include some consideration of transportation. They do not have cars.
Their options for getting jobs or attending graduate schools are limited by the availability of public transportation.
I never had to consider such limitations in making choices for my own life. As was the case for most of my friends at the time, my first car was a gift from my parents, and they even paid the insurance until I graduated college.
After college, I drove that same car to and from the job that allowed me to pay my own bills and eventually to purchase my own next car.
If you had a similar experience — someone else helped buy your first car or helped you get to and from a job until you could make that purchase yourself, consider how different your life might have been without that leg up.
In this column before, my colleagues and I have written about the global nature of the labor market. Employers must consider the fact that their competition isn’t just local anymore. Workers can move anywhere to get the best job.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for workers without automobiles. You can’t work a job you can’t get to.
According to the American Community Survey, in 2017, 20 percent of Brunswick’s households had no access to a vehicle.
Compare this to the national statistic of 8.8 percent of households without a vehicle and Georgia’s statewide percentage of just 6.7 percent.
This is a big problem for our labor market. Think about where Brunswick’s residential areas are in relation to where our business and retail areas are. Twenty percent of Brunswick’s households — many with more than one working-age adult — have no simple way to get to a workplace on St. Simons or up Altama or near I-95.
Sure, there is the option of a taxi, but paying the equivalent of 2 to 3 hours of work just to get to and from the job significantly reduces the incentives of employment.
The problem is bigger than our labor market. Also out of reach for many of these households are the county health department (4th Street), the DFCS office (Scranton Road), our college (4th Street and Altama Ave.) and technical college (Glynco Pkwy.), and other important government and nonprofit services.
Affordable public transportation should be a priority for a city our size and with our demographics. It would allow more current residents to join our local labor force, and it would help attract more talent to our area.
Remember my two young graduating friends? One of them has a B.S. in Physics and the other aspires to be a welder. Both are valuable workers, but until we offer better transportation options, neither can consider employment in Brunswick.
When workers like my friends are able to consider Brunswick home, we will also start to see more industry wanting to be at home here.
Economic development depends on reliable and affordable transportation systems.