According to a National Economic Development and Law Center report, the link between owning a car and being gainfully employed is significant. Studies have shown that not only are those who own cars more likely to work, but they are also more likely to work additional hours and earn higher wages. Not surprisingly, this impact of car ownership on hours worked and wages earned is greater for low-skilled workers than it is for higher-skilled workers.
Unfortunately, however, having access to a car is unattainable for many of Baltimore’s residents. While estimates suggest that some 32 percent of Baltimore’s population lack access to an automobile (The Abell Report, November/December 2005), that figure jumps to 44 percent for African-American households, based on Brookings Institution data. Further, Vehicles for Change (VfC) reports that some Baltimore residents without cars must often travel more than two hours on public transportation to get to work.
Since VfC’s inception in 1999, The Abell Foundation has supported this
nonprofit organization that repairs donated cars and makes them available to low-income job seekers in Baltimore City. (VfC also serves Carroll, Anne Arundel, and Montgomery counties; Northern Virginia; Washington, DC; and Richmond, VA.) Throughout the past 14 years, it has awarded more than 3,800 cars, changing the lives of more than 13,000 individuals. Currently, VfC awards 40 to 50 cars per month to families, with six cars a month going to families in Baltimore City.
A survey of 45 car recipients conducted by VfC in September 2011 revealed the following information:
- 75 percent obtained a better job and/or experienced increased earnings averaging $7,000 a year;
- 66 percent reduced the number of times they were late for work;
- 77 percent reduced the number of days they missed work; and
- 100 percent drove their children to activities, including tutoring, and after-school and athletic activities.
Recently, Vehicles for Change has moved to a new location—4111 Washington Boulevard—in Halethorpe. The 33,000-square-foot facility offers 4,000 square feet of office space and 28,000 square feet of warehouse space, with 1.5 acres of paved parking. This new building also houses the used-car business Freedom Wheels, a subsidiary of VfC. (VfC uses funds generated through Freedom Wheels to continue its efforts to provide services to low-wage families.) A $100,000 grant from The Abell Foundation supports renovations to the property, including an eight-bay garage within the warehouse area, which will allow VfC to complete 90 percent of all automotive repairs in-house. The additional space will also provide Freedom Wheels with room to sell more used cars, thus increasing the revenue generated for VfC.