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Brookings Institute

Could you get to work if you didn’t have a car?

Lots of people in the Houston area could not easily get to work if their car were not available to them.

According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, only 57.8 percent of the jobs in the entire Houston metro area are in neighborhoods with access to public transit service.

When ranked against the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, Houston was No. 82 in terms of the share of jobs that were in reach of public transit service.


When compared to other cities, Houston fared better on its percentage of labor population that could use public transportation to reach their employer within 90 minutes. In the city, 22.5 percent of the working population could reach their office by using public transportation within 90 minutes, placing it No. 56 on the national list.

You can see a sorted list of MSAs here and the study itself here. For the most part, it’s the suburban areas that lack transit options, especially if you have to get from one suburb to another. I suspect one reason Houston has a mediocre score isn’t so much because bus coverage is inadequate but because bus trips can be time consuming, especially if you have to transfer. I’m just guessing, though.

At our house, Tiffany works downtown and takes the bus most days. I do kid dropoff and pickup and I work near the Astrodome, so I drive. Out of curiosity I went to Metro’s trip planner to see what a transit commute would look like for me. The shortest trip suggested, which involved taking the Montrose Crosstown bus to the Hermann Park/Rice U light rail stop and catching the train from there, was estimated at 42 minutes. If I’m still working in the same place when the North Line extension is finished, I could hie myself over to the Quitman station after dropping off the kids, and from there I’d estimate it would be about a 30 minute trip, assuming that the North Line continues on Main Street instead of requiring a transfer. I’d contemplate parking my car near school and riding my bike to Quitman, but I know from personal experience that you can’t bring your bike on board the train before 9 AM, which unfortunately makes commuting that way impractical. Ah well, maybe that will change by 2014. Anyway, at least I’d have options. WonkBlog has more on the Brookings study.

Where the poverty is

It’s all around us, but more in some places than in others.

The number of Houston-area residents living in very poor neighborhoods almost doubled over the past decade, which researchers say increases their risk for unemployment, health problems and crime.

The neighborhoods identified in a Brookings Institution study of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas are concentrated in Houston’s inner city, with smaller pockets across the region.

Some of the increase came as rising unemployment pushed people already living in those neighborhoods below the poverty level. Researchers say the lack of affordable housing in more affluent neighborhoods likely contributed to the increased concentration of the poor, as well.

Many of these high-poverty neighborhoods – defined as those in which 40 percent or more of the residents are poor – have been the focus of renewal efforts for years.

“The Fifth Ward is void of jobs,” said Jarvis Johnson, whose City Council district includes the neighborhood east of downtown, home to several of the high-poverty census tracts cited in the study. “There aren’t any commercial grocery stores. There aren’t any places where young people can get a job.”


Kathy Flanagan Payton, who grew up in the Fifth Ward and now runs the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corp., said poverty too often leads to powerlessness.

“Poverty weakens the voice of the people,” said Payton. “It dampens the overall spirit of the community.”

Like Councilman Jarvis, she said the neighborhood is hurt by the lack of retail.

“No money is being spent in the community,” she said. “It’s all spent outside the community.”

I see that as being more effect than cause. Most of the money spent at a given business doesn’t necessarily stay in the community. Taxes go to the city and state, TIRZes aside. The owners and employees will spend their wages and profits where they live, which may or may not be in that community – if the business is not locally owned, much of its revenue may not even stay in the city.

Of course, having retail means having jobs, which certainly benefit the community, and it means having amenities that make people want to live there. It’s hard to attract people to a neighborhood that doesn’t have grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, dry cleaners, etc etc etc. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem – businesses don’t want to be where there isn’t an established market, and people don’t want to live where there’s nothing to do and no place to go.

The good news for the Fifth Ward, as I’ve said before, is its status as the last bastion of cheap real estate inside the Loop. Sooner or later, I believe, it will become attractive to the speculators and pioneer gentrifiers. The neighborhood appears to be ready for that.

[Payton’s] group builds affordable housing and is involved in efforts to renovate the DeLuxe Theater on Lyons Avenue, which Texas Southern University will use for classes and performances.

The goal isn’t to bring back the old Fifth Ward, which was the heart of African-American life in the 1940s and ’50s, Payton said, noting that it is now about 40 percent Latino.

“We’re trying to diversify the community, both socially and culturally,” she said, “to improve the overall economics that will lead to much-needed retail and bring jobs.”

I hope to see it happen. See here for more on the national story.

Our education gap

Apparently, we have one in Houston.

The Houston area doesn’t have enough educated workers to fill all the jobs that local industry creates, according to a study released today by the Brookings Institution.

That education gap, in turn, pushes up the local unemployment rate, according to the study, which ranked the Houston area 94th among the nation’s 100 largest regions. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area came in at No. 96.

The average job in Houston requires 13.53 years of education, said Jonathan Rothwell, senior research analyst at Brookings in Washington, D.C. The average Houston area resident has only 13.31 years.

The study used several years of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the type and number of jobs in each region and what kind of education is required to do the work. It compared that to a Census Bureau survey of actual education levels for each community.

You can see the executive summary here and the full report here. Personally, I’m skeptical that such a small difference in the average amount of education makes that much difference, but I suppose one way of looking at it is that it probably reflects college graduation rates as much as anything, and it’s easy enough to see how that could correlate to employment. Anyway, read it for yourself and see what you think.

We’re #9!

The ninth greenest metro area, at least in terms of “green” jobs, according to a Brookings study.

Houston’s “clean” or “green” economy is ranked 9th among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

“There is room for clean technology in a city with the largest number of fossil fuel jobs in the country and where oil is still king,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “In fact, many of our local energy companies are also at the forefront of research and production on environmentally-friendly alternatives. Going green is creating good paying jobs for Houstonians and growing our economy.”

The Brookings Institute report, “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment,” provides the following profile of Houston’s clean economy:

  • 9th among the 100 largest metro areas
  • Nearly 40,000 jobs, or 1.6 percent of all jobs in the region
  • Job growth exceeding 5 percent annually between 2003 and 2010
  • Each job produces nearly $17,000 in exports
  • Estimated median wage of $42,779 a year, compared to $38,608 for all jobs in Houston

Houston boasts an impressive list of green accomplishments. For three years in a row, it has appeared on the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual “top 10 list” of U.S. cities with the most Energy Star certified buildings. It is also the country’s largest municipal purchaser of renewable energy, with 33 percent of the City of Houston’s energy load provided by wind energy. Just last month, Mayor Parker was chosen as the nation’s top winner for large cities in the 2011 Mayors’ Climate Protection Awards sponsored by The U.S. Conference of Mayors. In addition, Houston has been selected as the site for Total Energy USA, an annual trade event that will assemble renewable energy, clean energy and energy-efficiency sectors in one place to provide a comprehensive look at the overarching, integrated energy solutions taking shape today.

The Brookings report can be found here, and the profile of the Houston metro area is here. If you go to that first link and click on the interactive indicator map, you’ll see that the rankings correlate strongly with overall metro area population. That shouldn’t be a surprise – these places are where most of the jobs of all kinds are – but it should be kept in perspective. Thanks to Houston Tomorrow for the catch.