Removing Transportation Barriers to Employment: Assessing Driver's License and Vehicle Ownership Patterns of Low-Income Populations
by John Pawasarat and Frank Stetzer, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Training Institute, July 1998.
complete report is available as a reprint in PDF.
During the last four years, the Employment and Training Institute has surveyed central city
Milwaukee workers to identify problems they face in finding and keeping employment. Two
have been repeatedly identified as barriers to employment: child care and getting to jobs which
often in the outlying areas of the metropolitan labor market. This paper is a companion piece
recently released study, Removing
Barriers to Employment: The
Child Care-Jobs Equation. For
most single parents who are expected to work full-time under current welfare initiatives and who
have children needing child care, use of a car is the most practical means of transportation. The
difficulties of getting to the child care provider, then to work, back to the child care provider
home contribute to job retention problems, particularly for single parents lacking a family car
valid driver's license.
This study examined the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) driver's license records
719,320 Milwaukee County residents, analyzed 331,304 recent (1992-1996) suspensions and
125,717 revocations by type and number of actions, geocoded addresses for 491,118 Milwaukee
County licensed residential vehicles, and matched driver's license and vehicle registration
to determine car ownership patterns. The Milwaukee Public Schools census and U.S. census
were used to determine driver's license and suspension rates for teenagers by zipcode, central
and suburban areas.
This research work is part of a continuing effort to provide insights into the child care and
transportation conundrum facing low-income families in Milwaukee County. The DOT driver's
license files and vehicle records together with each driver's suspension and revocation status
combined with data on the welfare status of 93,908 individuals in Milwaukee County in a unique
effort to provide a first-time census of transportation problems of low-income residents. Many
income teens and adults who have no record of serious traffic offenses lose their driving
(and access to work) for failure to pay fines and forfeitures. The data will be used to identify
in which policy and program initiatives may be most effective. A follow-up report will discuss
recommendations and potential solutions to address transportation barriers for Milwaukee County
Note: Revocations and suspensions are the two most common actions taken to withdraw a
operating privilege. Suspension is the more lenient action and means the privilege is put on hold
for a given time. Revocation means complete termination of the driving privilege. (Source:
Wisconsin Department of Transportation)
Driver's License Suspensions
- A total of 116,857 Milwaukee County adults (ages 18-55) showed suspension orders in
the DOT file. Of particular
interest were those 67,528 adults (58 percent of the total) suspended solely for non-payment of
fines and civil forfeitures,
rather than for traffic-related violations, DWI (driving while intoxicated), or drug
Reasons for License Suspensions: Adults Ages 18-55
Reasons for License Suspensions: Milwaukee County Males, Ages 18-55
- More central city males ages 18-55 had suspension orders on record (1992-1996)
than had a valid driver's
license, and most suspensions for City of Milwaukee residents were the result of non-payment
of fines rather than for
vehicle operation offenses.
- While 30 percent of adult male drivers in the county had suspensions, only 15 percent
had a suspension for a traffic-
related reason. In the central city Milwaukee CDBG neighborhoods, 46 percent of male drivers
had DOT suspensions, but
only 17 percent had a traffic-related suspension.
- Adults with suspensions on record often continued driving, thereby increasing
the severity of conditions which
need to be corrected prior to reinstatement. For low-income drivers (in public assistance cases),
nearly half (47 percent) of
males and one-fourth (27 percent) of females with non-traffic suspensions ended up with license
- For Milwaukee County women suspensions for driving while intoxicated and for other
traffic violations were
distributed throughout the county, while suspensions for failure to pay fines were heavily
concentrated in central city
Milwaukee neighborhoods with large concentrations of families living in poverty. (See maps
in full report.)
Reasons for License Suspensions: Milwaukee County Females, Ages
- Milwaukee County men showed four times as many suspensions as women.
Again, the largest numbers of
suspensions were for failure to pay fines and these were heavily concentrated in central city
(See maps below.)
Driver's License Revocations
- Most of the 54,747 Milwaukee County individuals with recent revocations were men (82
percent), and 53 percent
resided in central city CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) neighborhoods of
- Twenty-four percent of drivers with revocations had a revocation for driving while under
suspension or after
revocation but with no DWI (driving while intoxicated) or traffic-related charges.
- Twenty-seven percent of Milwaukee County drivers with revocations lost their licenses
for damage claims resulting
from an accident with no related DWI/traffic charge. Revocations for damage claims were much
more likely to occur for
central city residents while DWI charges were distributed throughout the county.
- Eighteen percent of individuals had a DWI charge, and an additional 31 percent had a
serious traffic-related reason
other than DWI for the revocation.
Driver's License Status of Milwaukee County Adults
- State Department of Transportation records for 255,143 Milwaukee County women (ages
18-55 years) showed 78
percent with a current license and no recent suspensions or revocations, 5 percent with a current
license and a recent
revocation or suspension, 7 percent with a suspension or revocation and no current license, and
10 percent with an expired
license, instruction permit or other status.
Driver's License Status of Milwaukee County Females, Ages 18-55
Driver's License Status of Milwaukee County Males, Ages 18-55
- For the 292,132 Milwaukee County men (ages 18-55) with DOT records, 57
percent had a current license and
no recent suspension or revocation, 14 percent had a current license and a recent suspension or
revocation, 18 percent had
a suspension or revocation and no current license, and 10 percent had an expired license,
instruction permit or other status.
Car and License Status of Families Receiving Welfare
- Previous Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development data have reported that only
3.3 percent of individuals
expected to work under "W-2" (the state's new welfare initiative) own a vehicle. However,
when DOT vehicle records were
matched with the Milwaukee County population in welfare households on AFDC and expected
to work, 12 percent were
found to own a car and 22 percent either owned a vehicle or had another family member in the
household who owned a
- Of the 24,811 single parents on AFDC in December 1995 and expected to work, 25
percent had a valid driver's
license, 4 percent had a license but a recent suspension or revocation, 18 percent had no license
and a suspension or
revocation on record, 10 percent had an expired and/or instruction permit, and 43 percent
showed no DOT record
Driver's License Status of Single Parent AFDC Cases
- Almost as many AFDC cases had suspensions or revocations on their records (22
percent) as had a valid
license in good standing (25 percent).
- Nearly half (49 percent) of single parent AFDC caseheads with a valid license had a
vehicle in the household and 34
percent owned their own vehicle.
Graph 7: Age
of Newest Vehicle in Single Parent AFDC Households
- Not surprisingly, single parents with a valid driver's license were much more likely to
leave AFDC. Nearly two-thirds
(63 percent) of December 1995 AFDC caseheads with a valid license left AFDC by June 1997
compared to 44 percent of
caseheads without a driver's license.
- Most single parent AFDC caseheads expected to work had children under 4 years. For
these parents the importance
of transportation access was even more critical.
- Caseheads with a driver's license were more than twice as likely to leave AFDC and
receive low-income child care
subsidies (14 percent) than caseheads without a driver's license (6 percent).
Employment Impact of Suspensions for Failure to Pay Fines
- The highest demand for workers is in the outlying areas where public transportation either
does not exist or is limited.
Access to a car opens employment opportunities in these labor markets with high demand for
- Disruption of employment due to suspension of the vehicle or driver's license may result
in considerable inconvenience
to both employee and employer.
- Adults in central city neighborhoods are much more likely to be suspended for non-
payment of fines and consequently
may find it even more difficult to retain a job which can generate the resources necessary to pay
fines and fees.
- Currently, millions of federal transportation funds for welfare participants are being
targeted to very expensive van
pooling and extension of bus routes to transport workers who in many cases have had their
licenses taken away by DOT for
failure to pay fines.
The Teen Driver Experience
- Only 25 percent of 16-18 year olds in the City of Milwaukee had a driver's
license, compared to 66 percent of
teens in the Milwaukee County suburbs.
- Most (93 percent) of the 19,653 teen license suspensions were for failure to pay fines.
The majority of suspended teens were city residents (88 percent), and 63 percent were central
- Many teens, particularly in the inner city, have suspension orders which prevent them
from obtaining an instruction
permit until all fines and a $50 reinstatement fee are paid to the Department of Transportation.
large number of teens with
suspension orders related to juvenile offenses (i.e., curfew violations, underage drinking)
contributed to the very low
percentage of central city teens with a driver's license.
- For teens (ages 16-18) living in the 53206 zipcode, only 10 percent of males and 8
percent of females had a driver's
license. In this zipcode 48 percent of male teens and 30 percent of female teens had suspensions
Milwaukee County Males (Ages 16-18) With a Driver's License
Milwaukee County Females (Ages 16-18) With a Driver's License
- Teens with suspended driver's licenses (usually for failure to pay juvenile fines
and forfeitures) were over-
represented in the low-income neighborhoods of Milwaukee's central city, while teens with valid
driver's licenses were
under-represented in these neighborhoods. (Maps are included in the full report.)
Transit Patterns for Milwaukee Area Workers
- The 1990 U.S. census data for Milwaukee area workers showed the heavy
reliance on cars/vans/trucks for
travel to work, particularly among suburban residents. Nearly all (95 percent) of Waukesha
County residents, 93 percent of
Washington/Ozaukee County residents, 91 percent of northern Milwaukee County suburban
residents, and 92 percent of
southern Milwaukee County suburban residents used a car to commute to work. By contrast,
62 percent of central city
residents used a car to travel to work, and 23 percent used the bus.
- Single parent
women with children under 6 years of age had much higher employment levels when there was
a car in
the household. For those with a car, census data showed 42 percent employed full-time and 16
compared to only 12 percent employed full-time and 11 percent employed part-time for those
without a car in the