Commuting to Opportunity: The Working Poor and Commuting in the United States


An analysis of the commuting and housing expenses of the working poor finds that compared with other workers:

  • The working poor spend a much higher portion of their income on commuting. The cost burden of commuting for the working poor is 6.1 percent compared with 3.8 percent for other workers. The working poor who drive to work spend the most: 8.4 percent.
  • The combined costs of commuting and housing make up a larger portion of the household budgets of the working poor than other households. For working-poor homeowners, nearly 25 percent of their household income is consumed by housing and commuting expenses compared with just 15.3 percent for other households. For those who rent, the disparities between the working poor (32.4 percent) and other households (19.7 percent) are even greater.
  • The cost burden of commuting for the working poor is greater than the national median in eight of the 12 largest metropolitan areas. Six of these—Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—also have a higher cost burden of housing than the national median for the working poor.

Transportation is necessary to nearly every aspect of daily life. It enhances both physical and economic mobility and is a key factor in workers’ ability to find and retain employment. This survey offers a better understanding of transportation and its costs by focusing on one of its components, commuting.