In the face of a persistently high unemployment rate in the Elm City, the nonprofit organization DataHaven recently released research raising questions about the relationship between public transportation and employment opportunities.
The research drew connections between transportation opportunities and unemployment rates in different neighborhoods within New Haven — ranging from 3 percent in high-income neighborhoods like Westville to as high as 20 percent in low-income neighborhoods such as Dixwell and Newhallville. The study indicated that shortened commutes increase job availability for New Haven residents.
The research has sparked conversation among local leaders surrounding a policy suggestion for improved transportation.
“We want to make sure that the people who are unemployed can get to the jobs that exist,” said Henry Fernandez LAW ’94, CEO of the consulting firm Fernandez Advisors. “If we know that the number of jobs available is going up in the greater New Haven metropolitan area, then we want to make sure that New Haven residents have access to the jobs.”
Spatial mismatch — the distance between workers and their jobs — continues to be a problem for low-income workers, said Deanna Song ’16, a Dwight Hall urban fellow, adding that faster commutes have serious implications for job access.
DataHaven is currently working with South Central Regional Council of Governments and New Haven’s chapter of the NAACP to write a report and form policy recommendations using the data, Mark Abraham ’04 said, the executive director of DataHaven.
Public transit is controlled by state policy, which has not lately played an active role in making improvements, Fernandez said, adding that the state government was very late in bringing changes to the railway system.
“If New Haven were a stop on a high-speed railway or if the trains didn’t break down with regularity, that would be a huge boon for New Haven,” he said.
The numbers show that the Elm City’s unemployment rates are falling — the rate fell from 11 percent in 2011 to 7.1 in 2014. However, the increase in people entering the workforce does not necessarily mean jobs are opening in New Haven, Fernandez said, attributing uneven job distribution to lack of a high quality public transit system.
The poverty rate among the city’s children is especially high at around 40 percent. Bolstering transportation lines would offer low-income parents more job opportunities, Fernandez said.
“It can also lower the poverty rate by making sure there are benefits to parents with children,” he said.
But some questioned how big of a role transportation plays in New Haven’s unemployment rate, citing other factors like wage theft and urban development.
After working with employment and workplace justice with Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan de Yale, Evelyn Nunez ’15 said she does not think access to transportation is a significant issue for people finding work in New Haven.
“You have people in restaurants, construction sites and landscaping doing the jobs of two people,” said Megan Fountain ’07, an activist from La Unidad Latina en Accion. Employers doubling the workload of their employees — not transportation issues — contribute more to the unemployment rate, she said.
New Haven’s current unemployment rate, at 7.1 percent, rests above the state average of 6.8 percent, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor.