Latinos are being pushed to urban edges, rural areas with few transportation options

By Robbie Webber

A study by researchers at UT Health San Antonio details the barriers that Latinos in the U.S. face because of poor access to transportation options. Inadequate transit options, unreliable or spotty schedules, long commutes, and a geographic mismatch between jobs and affordable housing are especially acute for Latinos, although the suburbanization of poverty creates similar problems for many communities.

The study—a literature review of recent research on Latino access to green space, housing affordability, environmental justice, and transportation options—found that as core urban areas have become more desirable residential locations, housing has become more expensive, often pushing low-income Latino residents to the edges of urban areas or into rural areas. New immigrants are bypassing the traditional gateway urban areas of the past, and instead moving directly to less-affluent suburbs and rural areas, especially in the Midwest and South.

Suburban and edge-urban areas often have spotty public transit options and difficult walking and biking conditions. Public transit may only run during peak hours, and infrequently or not at all during evenings and weekends. At the same time, many entry-level jobs in construction, manufacturing, landscaping, and the service industry—those that low-income Latinos often seek—have moved to the suburbs. However, the jobs often are not in the same suburbs as affordable housing, public transit between suburbs is often non-existent, and distances are too far to walk or bike. Therefore, there is a spatial mismatch between employers and employees.

Because of unreliable or infrequent transit, Latinos face long commutes, often combining biking, walking, and transit in one trip. These trips require leaving home very early and returning late, allowing little time for other errands. In rural areas, another setting for many Latino jobs, alternatives to private car ownership may be limited to employer shuttles or informal carpools with other employees.

In both suburban and rural settings, services, schools, child care, medical care, shopping, and other daily needs are difficult to access without a car. However, researchers found that Latinos were twice as likely not to own a car and twice as likely as non-Latino Whites to rely on public transportation. Latino workers may feel they must purchase a car to reach jobs. However, many survey respondents report that car-ownership expenses mean they must forego other necessities such as food and healthcare.

The report concludes that access to affordable housing in urban areas, transit-oriented development, and improved public transit options, as well as safer walking and biking options to reach jobs and transit, would benefit Latino communities. More about the research findings and additional conclusions about access to healthy communities and green space are in the full report.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.