Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Ronald Foresta

Committee Members

Thomas L. Bell, Shih-Lung Shaw, Stan Bowie


American cities have changed from older high-density urban neighborhoods to sprawling automobile-oriented suburbs. Many of the urban poor find themselves distant from jobs and services on this landscape. For poor single mothers, the problems are exacerbated by childrearing responsibilities. In addition, most of the jobs that are accessible to the working poor are low paying and have non-traditional hours, making the challenges of this new urban landscape even more formidable.

Welfare reform initiatives have established time limits for assistance; the aim is to remove millions from welfare and make them self-sufficient. However, the immediate result was to push many into the ranks of the working poor. In cities, that means throwing them onto landscapes that are ill-suited to their needs. Consequently, a range of programs have been instituted to help them organize their lives, including many that improve access to public transportation.

However, given the geography of the contemporary American city, it is not clear that such programs are effective in helping women make the transition to work. Thus, I examine whether public transportation in medium-sized American cities does, or can be made to, serve the needs of working poor women. Individual-level data, collected through ethnographies and travel diaries, is analyzed to create a picture of their movement paths, alternatives, and coping mechanisms.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be used to analyze concerns relating to changes in welfare programs. Data were acquired through travel diaries and were used to create routes to examine patterns of travel, and identify the constraints of using public transportation. I then used the data to recreate each woman’s travel as if she did not have the use of a car to identify costs and inconveniences if she had to rely solely on public transportation.

This research is intended to better the lives of those struggling to move from welfare to work, as well as improve policy makers’ decisions in light of impending welfare reform renewal. Assuming that public transportation will not solve the problems of the working poor, a number of policy alternatives, including private automobile ownership, are discussed and evaluated.

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