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Cars, Women and Minorities

The magazines Black Enterprise, African American Golfer's Digest and Divas On-The-Go are hosting the African-American Empowerment Weekend here in Washington this week. We've talked a lot in the past about how free market ideas can do just that - provide economic empowerment to members of historically disenfranchised minority groups - and how any number of government policies have done just the opposite. One of the most interesting of these examples is the role the privately owned automobile has played in expanding economic opportunities for women and minorities. Transportation policy analyst Alan Pisarski wrote an excellent paper for us in 1999 on the democratization of mobility that tells the story. Here's a summary: Disparities in mobility between men and women, and among various racial groups, have declined in recent decades, and the indications are that they will continue to decline. But automobility is under increasing attack, on grounds ranging from resource and environmental concerns to arguments over “urban sprawl.” If restrictions on car use are imposed, their impact across our national landscape will be far from uniform. Their most severe effects will fall on those groups that either have recently attained mobility or are just now on the verge of attaining it. By undermining the “democratization of mobility,” such restrictions would weaken a key attribute of the American Dream. You can read the whole thing in PDF here.