As a result of the recent restructuring of the U.S. welfare system, millions of welfare recipients have entered the paid labor market. In response, public agencies have established programs to transition recipients into the labor market or else risk dramatic increases in poverty. While access to transportation affects welfare recipients’ ability to find and retain employment, relatively little is known about the relationship between transportation and welfare usage, particularly among ethnic and racial subgroups of the population.
This study relies on survey data from two California counties, Los Angeles and Fresno to examine the travel patterns and barriers of welfare recipients across racial and ethnic groups, focusing specifically on the transportation issues facing Southeast Asians. The findings show that Southeast Asian welfare recipients are more—not less—reliant on automobiles for their travel than other racial and ethnic groups. While this finding might suggest that low-income Southeast Asian families do not face transportation difficulties, evidence from the surveys show otherwise. Some Southeast Asian households do not have automobiles. Moreover, Southeast Asian respondents reported the greatest difficulty with their travel largely because they face numerous auto-related transportation problems, the most apparent is the age of their vehicles. Two-thirds of auto-owning Southeast Asian respondents owned vehicles that were over ten years old and 61 percent had trouble maintaining their vehicles.
The findings of this study suggest that policies to facilitate the economic incorporation of low-income families—including Southeast Asian households—must include efforts to facilitate access to automobiles and, in particular, access to reliable vehicles. For Southeast Asian recipients living in dense urban areas, transit agencies must devote greater attention to providing language assistance to those with limited English language proficiency. Finally, additional data are needed to better understand the travel patterns and barriers of Southeast Asians and to evaluate existing programs to meet their transportation needs.