Breaking Down the Barriers to Worker Mobility

Getting to work can be a difficult barrier for many people to overcome. In rural areas, in cities without reliable public transportation, or where jobs are located in ex-urban areas, workers have to rely on their own vehicles to get to their jobs—assuming they can afford one. But what happens when your driver’s license is suspended? How do you get to your job, on time, every day?

This is a struggle that many workers face in states that require automatic driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses and other reasons. During our most recent site director’s call, Jerry Roberts from the Milwaukee Area Workforce Funding Alliance presented on this important topic. He delved into some of the specific actions being undertaken by workforce leaders, community advocates, and others to address driver’s license suspensions as a barrier to employment. “Warrant Wednesdays” is an initiative spearheaded by the Milwaukee Municipal Court where people with driver’s license and vehicle registration suspensions can come to court without fear of arrest and get back on track. Jerry’s presentation sparked further discussion within the network, with some of our collaborative sites sharing different strategies and efforts they have enacted to break down these barriers.

Central Iowa Works in Des Moines shared that until last year, Iowa was one of 11 states that required automatic driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses, even if the crime had nothing to do with a motor vehicle. This law was a consequence of a 1991 federal law that threatened to withhold a portion of states’ highway funding if they did not suspend driver’s licenses after a drug conviction. Most states had since used a clause that allowed them to opt out of the automatic license suspension, but Iowa had not. The law impacted about 5,000 Iowans each year.

The automatic suspension was proving to be a major impediment to people re-entering society upon release from prison. It impacted not only their employment, but other responsibilities as well: meeting their parole officer, attending to family needs, and pursuing education and training. In 2017, 356 Iowans were arrested for driving with a license that was suspended because of a drug conviction.

In 2018, the Iowa Skills2Compete Coalition made the law a top legislative priority. Through a bipartisan effort, Iowa finally opted out of the automatic driver’s license suspension.

In Northeast Ohio, the Fund for Our Economic Future is tackling the challenge of workers, geography, and, and transportation. Together with regional partners, they are testing new transportation models that target specific neighborhoods and specific businesses offering good jobs. They hope that these innovations will help break down the spatial mismatch between where workers live and where companies are located.

Transportation barriers are also a major concern in Baltimore. Maryland is a mandatory auto insurance state, meaning that in order to legally register your vehicle, you must have it insured. But insurance companies in Maryland can use non-driving factors to set prices, including where an individual’s residence is located. For many low-income workers in some neighborhoods in Baltimore, the insurance rates are much higher than in other areas. Some workers must decide between paying their monthly insurance premium and other necessities of daily living. Luckily, these discriminatory practices in auto insurance rates are garnering more scrutiny as legislative efforts are underway to address this huge problem.

Getting to and from work is something that many people take for granted, even if it’s sometimes a headache. But many people face obstacles that are a lot more challenging than sitting in traffic. Legal systems, insurance systems, public transportation, and regional development systems can all get in the way of a commute that is easy, affordable, or even possible. Sometimes, these barriers remain hidden and obscured. Across the National Fund network, we are working to identify these barriers and find solutions that help workers overcome them while providing employers with the skilled workforce they need.