Despite the Maryland General Assembly’s budget debacle, Associated Black Charities’ legislative advocacy led to one significant victory for low-income workers and their families: modifying adult driver’s licensing laws. Maryland is the only state in the nation to require new drivers of all ages to complete the same onerous education and practice requirements, creating tremendous barriers to mobility and employment for low-income adults. However, new legislation proposed by ABC partner Job Opportunities Task Force will reduce the 60-hour practice rule to 14 hours and reduce the time for holding a provisional license from 9 months to 45 days for new drivers over the age of 25.
Why is this legislation significant?
Low-income and low-skill individuals experience incredible challenges to employment but are further limited because of transportation barriers. In Baltimore City, these challenges are disproportionately experienced by African Americans, Latinos and the working poor. Baltimore is not alone in this dilemma of limiting economic opportunities for families because of their inability to access viable employment. The level of poverty and job isolation is felt by adults throughout Maryland. Prince Georges County has a 9.4% poverty rate; Dorchester County has a 13.4% poverty rate; and Baltimore County’s poverty rate is 8.2%.
While viable public transportation can connect people to greater employment opportunities, we know that Marylanders rely heavily on personal vehicles to travel to and from work: US Census reports that 2,855,936 residents commute to work this way versus 248,485 who use public transportation. The average travel time indicates that jobs are not around the corner. The average commute time to work in Dorchester County is 25 minutes; Prince Georges County is 35.5 minutes; Baltimore County is 27.9 minutes; the City is 29.2 minutes; and Howard County is 30.3 minutes. Unfortunately, this also means that many employment opportunities are out of reach for low-skill and entry-level workers if the opportunities are outside of the limited realm of public transportation.
The unintended consequences of Maryland’s current drivers’ license law is to penalize citizens, who are over 25 years of age and possess low to limited skills, when they have an opportunity to grow their skills and make a greater economic contribution to the State. In some instances, their access is blocked by their inability to link to jobs geographically off limits or off limits because of the job schedule requiring attendance doing non peak transportation hours.
This legislation will lead to increased opportunities for Maryland’s most vulnerable populations.