SDOH Transportation

SDOH: How Transportation Affects the Working Class

Last month, our Director of Social Determinants of Health and Product Development Tamara Carlton discussed the impact of food insecurity on social determinants of health (SDoH). This month, she’s  exploring how access to transportation impacts the working class and their economic status, health outcomes, and other SDoH factors.

One of the main purposes of public transit service is to effectively link workers to employment opportunities. But what if those services aren’t available during an employee’s required work hours? Or, what if an individual’s training and work programs are located outside the service area of a public transit system? Without a reliable transportation source to get to and from training or a place of work, an individual’s health can be severely impacted: employment access and stability affects job benefits such as health insurance and paid sick leave, which are crucial to establishing positive health outcomes.

Work and Training Programs

Work and training programs help employees learn their company’s trade, and build the skills they need to successfully accomplish their job duties. According to a study done by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, metropolitan areas have been expanding outward from city centers. That means jobs are moving farther away from low-income and minority populations, making inadequate and unaffordable transportation an alarming barrier to employment. Without a sustainable transportation plan to get to and from these specialized programs, workers have no way to learn their trade, support their families, and ultimately access affordable healthcare.


As jobs continue to move towards the suburbs, many potential workers and those with disabilities miss out on employment opportunities. In a study done by the Brooking’s Institution, across 100 of the largest metropolitan areas, approximately 22% of people are employed within three miles of a city center. That same study says more than 35% of workers travel ten-plus miles from the city center for secure employment. The current economic map of employment has identified transportation as a primary need, and makes commuting to work more common than it has ever been.

Thomas W. Sanchez, Assistant Professor from the School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University says, “If transportation systems in American cities could be laid out so as to provide an opportunity for poor people to get meaningful employment, then they could begin to move into the mainstream of American life.” Access to transportation to and from the workplace directly links to SDoH factors such as economic stability, access to quality healthcare, and more. Read more of Sanchez’s study on the transportation dependent in his article The Connection Between Public Transit and Employment.


A study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in September of 2019 showed that 17% of people employed in metropolitan areas work the late-night shift. Occupations like nurses, security, and so many more work late-night hours in order to support their livelihoods. The study says, “Large-scale manufacturing relies on the late-shift to keep factories humming 24/7, and small manufacturing centers have among the largest proportion of total workers employed during the late-shift in the country.”

Having access to a source of transportation at all hours, including during night-shift schedules, is key to continuing the growth of this important segment of the U.S. workforce. Struggles like transportation availability can directly affect hardships like generational wage gaps, inability to form economic stability, and sustaining a healthy lifestyle.

The Solution

So, what’s the solution? At the federal level, many programs have been created to help people with low income and disability-related travel challenges get to work. According to a work access study done by the National Conference of State Legislature, the U.S. Department of Transportation says, “Formula grants for urban and rural areas can be used for transit services that are designed to transport welfare recipients and eligible low-income individuals to and from jobs and activities related to their employment.” With employment comes access to healthcare, economic stability, and so much more that can positively affect SDoH factors.

MTM continues to collaborate with our transportation partners to develop work transportation programs. Our vision of communities without barriers drives forward as we help create opportunities for the working class. With transportation access and availability becoming more reliable, we can help close those wage gaps, increase job sustainability, and dive in to solutions that positively affect all areas of SDoH.


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