Having a job is great, if you can get there.
A recent University of Minnesota study found a “serious disconnect” between unemployed workers and job vacancies in the seven-county Twin Cities area. The culprit? The lack of a dependable car, for one, but also the need for a public transportation system that’s reliable and convenient.
As a result, disadvantaged workers who live in urban areas often have no way to reach employment centers in suburbia, the study concludes. And employers hungry for qualified workers can’t seem to attract and keep them.
Andrew Guthrie, a doctoral student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said U researchers embarked on the study because they wanted “to address the fact that disadvantaged workers often end up between a rock and a hard place. They might be qualified for a variety of entry-level jobs, often in suburban areas. But if they don’t have a car, or their household doesn’t have a second car, or a reliable late-model car, they can’t physically reach these jobs.”
Plus, he added, while it’s relatively easy to reach a large number of jobs in both downtowns, many people may not have the qualifications to actually land those positions.
In research-speak, there’s a “spatial and skills mismatch.”
Guthrie was most surprised to find that there were a number of jobs available that paid relatively well and that did not require a college degree, but were still out of reach for some because of a lack of transportation. “We tend to forget that — we tend to think if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree you’re out of luck,” he said.
These positions include coaches and scouts in the educational services sector, customer service representatives, nursing assistants, machinists and truck drivers.
The study said that planned improvements to the regional transit system would offer “significant gains in job access for residents of economically disadvantaged areas such as north Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park and Midway in St. Paul.”
These transit improvements, outlined in the Metropolitan Council’s long-term Transportation Policy Plan, include extensions of the Green and Blue LRT lines to Eden Prairie and Brooklyn Park, respectively. It also assumes more arterial bus lines, like the A Line service that recently opened along Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.
Should the build-out happen — and that’s a very big assumption at this point — access to jobs would increase 23 percent in Brooklyn Park, 18 percent in north Minneapolis and 17 percent in the Gateway Corridor along Interstate 94 east of St. Paul, the study claims. (I’m guessing many of the LRT critics in the area would dispute that conclusion.)
Sponsored by Hennepin County, the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota and the McKnight Foundation, the study offers a number of recommendations to coordinate transit planning and employers’ workforce development efforts. Copies of the study have been forwarded to key legislators involved in transportation planning, Guthrie said.
There’s some indication that employers and transit agencies may be taking this phenomenon seriously. Recently, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority announced a new express bus route between the Mall of America and Shakopee, a burgeoning employment center that is the home of Amazon.com, Shutterfly, Mystic Lake Casino and others.
The Bloomington megamall is a transit hub for the Blue Line light rail, as well as several bus routes. The new bus service begins in August, and it’s part of a one-year pilot program to see if it works.