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Moving To Work In The Bay Area

Low-income workers face multiple barriers to advancement

Moving to Work examines the critical role of transit - as well as development clustered around transit (TOD) - in linking low-income communities with career-ladder opportunities

Reconnecting America with Urban Habitat and support from the Great Communities Collaborative today released the findings and recommendations from a year and a half long project: Moving to Work in the Bay Area, a study of the barriers that low-income workers in the Bay Area face to accessing economic opportunity.

Moving To Work Spatial Frame for Issues Venn DiagramThe study found that while low-income workers in the Bay Area face multiple barriers to career advancement, the economic and workforce development fields often overlook a key barrier for low-income workers: transit access. In turn, transit advocates often overlook the importance of job creation and training to building a stronger Bay Area economy as well as asset building. 

Moving to Work examines the critical role of transit - as well as development clustered around transit (TOD) - in linking low-income communities with career-ladder opportunities. To that end, the project produced four briefing papers aimed at improving the linkage of equitable transit-oriented development initiatives with economic development and workforce development initiatives. The briefs seek to help actors in each field understand how stronger connections between them could increase career ladder job access for workers.

Brief One offers a basic overview of all barriers to employment, while Brief Two explores more deeply the details of how transportation barriers affect economic opportunity for low-income workers. Brief Three identifies strategies to improve access for low-income workers to career-ladder jobs by identifying "Industries of Opportunity."

Moving to Work identified six Industries of Opportunity, using criteria established in an application for a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and a coalition of Bay Area regional partners.

"Industries of Opportunity" are those that provide living-wage jobs that put low- and moderate-income workers on a clearly-defined career pathway to economic self-sufficiency, are close to transit, and are accessible to low-income communities.

Moving to Work used that definition, along with a quantitative analysis of industries, an extensive literature review, and discussions with practitioners in the community college, economic development, and workforce development fields to identify the following six Industries of Opportunity: 

  • Advanced Manufacturing and Food Manufacturing;
  • Transportation and Warehousing;
  • Biotech;
  • Energy;
  • Healthcare; and
  • Information Technology and Communications.

Relative Density of Industries of Opportunity

In order to support more strategic thinking about how these industries could be incorporated into regional, corridor and station area efforts to link TOD with economic development, Moving to Work compiled information on the latest trends, areas of growth, and job quality in each industry, and also analyzed the spatial location of jobs, identifying the share that are near transit, the relative density of jobs in each industry.

For example, studying Advanced Manufacturing and Food Manufacturing found that most manufacturing in the Bay Area requires workers to operate computer-based machinery rather than engage in manual work along an assembly line, and much of the manufacturing industry in place in the South Bay is built around supporting the high tech sector. Food manufacturing, concentrated in North and East Bay counties, is also an important regional industry.

East Bay manufacturingSouth Bay manufacturing

Jobs in this industry are clustered in low to moderate densities, which can be attributed to a need for large floor plates and potentially negative externalities associated with manufacturing (noise,odor, truck traffic, etc), can create a challenge in linking manufacturing jobs to transit. Only 37% of jobs in advanced and food manufacturing are located near high quality transit, compared to 51% of all jobs in the region.

Finally, Brief Four recommends policies and strategies, as well as future research, to the fields of economic, workforce, and transit-oriented development to link low-income communities with career-ladder opportunities.

Key Recommendations for Linking Economic Development, Workforce Development and Equitable TOD

Although limited collaboration exists between the three distinct fields covered in the Moving to Work project - Economic Development, Workforce Development, and Equitable Transit-Oriented Development - existing opportunities lay the groundwork to better link the fields together and ultimately connect low-income communities with career-ladder opportunities.

  • Prioritize regional and countywide funding for infrastructure and congestion management to support connections to key employers, training centers, and low-income communities. As the Bay Area economy functions more as a region and less as individual cities, the funding mechanisms supporting job creation, especially for low-income communities, should address business/economic, workforce, and transit-oriented development at a regional level rather than as a vehicle for increasing a city's tax base or as a means of luring businesses from one Bay Area jurisdiction to another.
  • Participate in existing collaborations between community colleges and workforce development communities to build a local pipeline such as the Bay Area Workforce Collaborative. By bringing transit and TOD issues to an existing collaborative focused on workforce and economic development, transit and TOD advocates can engage in conversations with stakeholders on larger public policy issues, especially those related to transit and TOD. Brief Two seeks to foster these discussions.
  • Consider ways that transit access and other transportation infrastructure can support models such as Linked Learning and Career Advancement Academies that enable project-based, school-based enterprise and work-based learning. Contra Costa is a state leader in these efforts, and is an excellent starting point for understanding the role transit can play in supporting workforce and economic development goals. Encourage regional agencies and local jurisdictions to coordinate with the Career Advancement Academies and related initiatives seeking ways to build a new pipeline from education to economic opportunity.

More recommendations, maps, and information can be found on the project website:

Moving to Work was funded with support from Living Cities and the Surdna Foundation.