University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Employment and Training Institute

Brief Summary

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 Employment and Training Institute, July 1998.

Note: The 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 areas have been repeatedly identified as barriers to employment: child care and getting to jobs which are often in the outlying areas of the metropolitan labor market. This paper is a companion piece to a 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 and home contribute to job retention problems, particularly for single parents lacking a family car or a valid driver's license.

This study examined the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) driver's license records for 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 records to determine car ownership patterns. The Milwaukee Public Schools census and U.S. census data were used to determine driver's license and suspension rates for teenagers by zipcode, central city 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 were 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 low- income teens and adults who have no record of serious traffic offenses lose their driving privileges (and access to work) for failure to pay fines and forfeitures. The data will be used to identify areas 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 low-income families.

Note: Revocations and suspensions are the two most common actions taken to withdraw a driver's 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 convictions.

Graph 1: Reasons for License Suspensions: Adults 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.

Graph 2: Reasons for License Suspensions: Milwaukee County Males, Ages 18-55

  • 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 revocations.

  • 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.)

Graph 3: Reasons for License Suspensions: Milwaukee County Females, Ages 18-55

  • 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 Milwaukee neighborhoods. (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 Milwaukee.

  • 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.

Graph 4: Driver's License Status of Milwaukee County Females, 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.

Graph 5: Driver's License Status of Milwaukee County Males, Ages 18-55

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 vehicle.

  • 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 match.

Graph 6: 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 workers.

  • 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 city residents.

  • 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. The 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 or revocations.

Graph 8: Milwaukee County Males (Ages 16-18) With a Driver's License

Graph 9: 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 percent part-time, compared to only 12 percent employed full-time and 11 percent employed part-time for those without a car in the household.

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