I think one of the problems our country faces socially is that it takes the ability to go out and “just get a job” for granted, as if there was “nothing stopping you” from being able to work for somebody else. I think there is a great deal that is unhealthy with this perspective for many, many reasons.
There can be many barriers to the ability to work. The most common problem we discuss is education, and I won’t pretend that lack of education can keep somebody out of a specific job. There are more problems than that, though.
Another big one is transportation – just getting to/from work. This is another major barrier that tends to get overlooked because the people who already have money don’t use the services which are required for “entry level” transportation like busses and trains. Even those services are not free, and since we are literally born with nothing, if somebody isn’t willing to give you a couple dollars a day to ride the bus, you can’t even get to a job – much less the interview. When it takes two weeks to get paid, that is easily $20 or more.
Even that is ignoring the impractical reality of taking a bus (or other public transit). I had the pleasure of using the Metro in Washington DC, and I was flabbergasted that it actually worked as billed – but this is an exception to how public transit works, especially in my area (North Carolina). Most public transit is not on time, has very long waiting periods between pick ups, and is terribly unreliable. It is not unusual to be able to travel a distance in 15 minutes by car that requires two hours to travel by bus. In addition to regular traffic, you also have to deal with the constant stops for other people, routes that may not even go where you need them to, and connecting routes that can be separated by thirty minutes or more. You cannot stick to your schedule because the bus is never, ever on time, and that works against you in two ways. First, because you are required to plan extra time for waiting for the dang thing to arrive in the first place; but also because a late bus can cause you to miss your planned connection, forcing you to wait up to an hour for the next connecting bus (scheduled thirty minutes later, but running badly behind schedule).
That cuts into the rest of the time you have to do anything at all in life, and the practicality of doing it. How many groceries would you buy if you had to carry them a half a mile from the bus stop home, if it took three hours to get from where you live to the nearest grocery store one way? That requires that you spend your entire day just buying groceries, and prevents you from being able to do anything else productive with your time – but also forces you to limit how much you can buy to how much you can possibly carry. Walking even a quarter mile with a full week’s worth of food on your back is very difficult. I hope you didn’t buy anything that requires refrigeration.
And that’s on a good day. I recall having problems getting around Raleigh any time that public transit was disrupted. Because public transit is such a low priority and not held as “sacred”, it gets disrupted by even minor events with no relevance to the city at large. NC State used to hold a “Krispy Kreme Challenge” where students would run from campus to a nearby doughnut shop, eat a dozen doughnuts, and then run back to campus – and if you puke you are disqualified. That is a small, stupid event to shut down all the bus traffic flowing down Hillsborough street, one of the main thoroughfares for the area. Public transit cannot be disrupted so easily when people who have jobs depend on it to get to work, and having to call out “because some idiots are eating doughnuts and running in the street” is ridiculous and will get you fired.
And that is assuming you can even get into a job in the first place. We talk about the barriers that come with lack of education, but even after getting educated you are often required to get an expensive license, even to work for somebody else. There are some people who get into the nice, cozy jobs that pay for your licenses for you – often because they have some kind of family connection – and those people will never understand the agony of having to cough up $50 for a license just to be able to work at a low wage, part-time, seasonal job for a few months. If you are starting from zero, you cannot overcome those barriers on your own, and it is unreasonable to expect it to happen.
And all of that is within a major city, one of the two largest in the state of North Carolina. Heaven forbid that you live in the countryside – there’s probably no bus system at all.
It is painful when you try to discuss these problems with people whose family paid for their transportation (car, car insurance, licensing fee, and all the costs of practicing driving to be able to pass the driving test), who allowed them to keep their entire paychecks to reinvest into themselves, who cannot understand what all the fuss is about. “Just get a job and go to work”. They take getting the job and getting to work for granted.
There are enough legitimate barriers to employment (like skill and dependability) without adding extra barriers of transportation and licensing fees. The barriers that keep people from being able to get started are the worst of them all, because they cannot always be overcome by yourself (which is often by design). In a country where some people talk about “privilege”, being able to get a job and make something of yourself should not itself be a privilege.
If I could, I’d make public transportation paid for by taxes, and let it be available to all persons without a point-of-use cost. I am convinced that public transportation is a public good, and should not be viewed the same way that private transportation is. It also needs to be kept on a more accurate schedule (i.e. better planning), and it should not be allowed to be disrupted by “public events” the same way that a side street only used by private vehicles that can easily detour might be.
And can we please remove the costs from licenses that are required to get jobs? If the government wants to stop decent people from being able to work, they need to eat the cost of it instead of forcing the public to do it. Those licensing fees only exist to limit business opportunities to rich people.
Maybe the problem is just that the people affected most are poor, and because of this system always will be.