Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Connecting Low-Wage Workers With Job Opportunities

Yingling Fan

Yingling Fan


[This is another in our series of expert blogs on TOD highlighting work and research that experts are doing in the field. The author, Yingling Fan, is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute.]

Public transportation plays an important role in addressing poverty, unemployment and equal-opportunity goals. Often, entry-level jobs are far from affordable housing. Moreover, low-income workers are often carless, or struggle with high gas prices. These factors make transit particularly important to working class people.

The Hiawatha light rail line opened in 2004 as the first link in the Twin Cities’ envisioned transitway system—a system that provides premium transit services including light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit. The transitways are expected to improve mobility and accessibility through reliable and rapid service, yet many question who benefits from them.

Over much of the past year, our research team attempted to uncover whether the Hiawatha light rail line effectively connect low-wage workers with suitable job opportunities. Low-wage workers are defined as workers with average monthly earnings no higher than $1,200.

The study found that following the opening of the Hiawatha line in 2004, the number of low-wage jobs accessible by 30 minutes of transit travel in morning peak hours increased by 14,000 or 50 percent in light-rail station areas and by 4,000 or 25 percent in areas with direct, light-rail-connecting bus routes.  In other words, large accessibility gains are found to extend well beyond Hiawatha station areas into areas along bus routes connecting to the Hiawatha line. (See map.)

This key finding suggests enormous importance of a fully integrated transit network (as opposed to a single transit corridor) in realizing the maximum benefits from major transit investments. The effective and efficient planning of feeder/distributor services will be critical to ensuring low-wage workers reap the greatest benefits possible from future LRT corridors.

In addition, the research finds that low-wage workers have increasingly been locating near station areas. Hiawatha and related transit upgrades are estimated to have drawn 907 low-wage workers into the Hiawatha station areas. Likewise, the number of low-wage employers has increased near station areas, with Hiawatha and related transit upgrades having, by estimate, brought in more than 5,000 low-wage jobs into areas near downtown Minneapolis and suburban Bloomington light-rail stations.

These findings confirm that the accessibility gains observed earlier in the study have led to realized gains for actual low-wage workers. On the other hand, it also underscores the need to provide adequate affordable housing and to address the jobs-housing balance along transitways (e.g., LRT, BRT, and commuter rail), but most likely more at the corridor level than at the individual station area level.

The study area included the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan region and used data from several sources, including the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) database, the U.S. Census Bureau and Metro Transit.

Please do not hesitate to contact Yingling Fan at should you have any questions or comments about this research.