Nancy Andrews and Audrey Choi  |

To help get America back to work, there is one critically important element that is often overlooked: the fact that today, simply getting from home to work and back again has become a growing challenge for many Americans.

Over the past several decades, jobs in general have moved away from city centers and from mass transit. Today, some three-quarters of all jobs are located outside the city center, and lower-skilled workers bear the heaviest commuting burden as their jobs have moved to outer urban rings that often lack access to public transportation. Low-income workers increasingly must buy cars and gasoline they can ill afford or spend hours on circuitous commutes.

This places a heavy burden on American families at a significant economic cost to the nation: $100 billion lost each year in time and fuel because of lengthy and inconvenient commutes, according to the Center for Transit-Oriented Development. Even for families that try to cope with financial difficulties by moving to lower-cost housing, 77 cents out of every dollar saved is still consumed by the costs of commuting back to their jobs. Many are spending more money and more time getting to and from work. And, as commutes become longer, more demanding and increasingly expensive, some will decide they simply cannot get to available jobs and drop out of the workforce, creating additional costs for the U.S. economy.

To truly get America back to work, we have to focus on more than jobs, jobs, jobs. It is about integrating jobs, transportation, housing and community services in ways that work equally well for lower- and upper-income families.

Vibrant communities where residents can walk to shops, restaurants, grocery stores and community services; and where public transportation provides convenient connections between home and work can be built. Planning community development with public transportation as a central consideration — transit-oriented development or TOD — can spur economic growth, sometimes dramatically. But that approach has not been systematically applied to communities of all income levels.{…}