How Vehicles Keep the South Valley Poor

I live and work in the South Valley, a universally acknowledged “poor part of town” where poverty rates for children reach as high as 40% in some census tracts. I know those statistics from research I do as part of my current “day job” writing grants seeking funds to improve the economy down here.

One very good site to get statistics on poverty and much else is the U.S. Census’ “American Factfinder” which has a really easy-to-use search feature to find information cultivated through prior census and instrument such as the annual American Community Survey. Not perfect, and the margins of error get a bit large in some areas, but helpful information toward better understanding a particular Census Designated Place (as the South Valley is) or other designated (e.g., Zip Code).

Below are three screenshots of Factfinder searches for the South Valley and two other widely considered poor parts of town, Zip Code 87102 (Barelas, South Broadway, Martineztown, San Jose) and 87108 (International District). The Zip Code boundaries don’t precisely capture stats; for example, Ridgecrest is in 87102. Still, poverty rates and other economic data illustrated by Factfinder show both the South Valley and two Zip Codes in far worse shape than many other parts of town.

Specifically, the images below capture commute times and number of vehicles per household. While the numbers below “make sense” in that the South Valley is simply geographically more distant from workplaces than 87102/87108, it is worth considering how much more scant financial resources are relatively spent on vehicles/driving in the South Valley, as well as what creating more jobs in the South Valley could mean economically based on vehicle ownership/drive times alone.

south valley commutes
South Valley
87108 commutes
Zip Code 87108 (International District, Fairgrounds, Ridgecrest)
87102 commutes
Zip Code 87102 (Barelas, Martineztown, San Jose, South Broadway)

To recap the above, roughly 15% of South Valley workers have one car in the household; well over 30% have just one vehicle in 87102/87108. Moreover, roughly half of South Valley working households have three cars or more; 87102/87108 somewhere around 20%. Also note the commute times above, where mean commutes times are six to seven minutes longer for South Valley workers.

While looking at the socio-emotional costs of longer commute times is an extremely valid exercise, let’s stick solely with the poverty/financial angel for now. How much more are South Valley folks spending on vehicles than their pretty much equally poor brethren in 87102/87108? To give something of an idea, here’s the cost to operate estimate for a base model 2013 F-150 Ford Pickup. I selected something a bit older for realism purposes, as was the decision to choose a pickup because…well, have you been to the South Valley? There are a ton of pickups.

cost to own truck

And again for context, here are the 2017 numbers for household income in the South Valley:

sv incomes

Yeah, those dollar margins of error are pretty high, but not as high as the annual cost of owning a pickup. Not even close.

Evolving the South Valley economy to the point at which folks will not feel it necessary to spend so much money on so many vehicles will require hugely significant job creation and transportation efforts, neither of which seem “on the table” much these days. Building a Walmart at Coors and Rio Bravo and surrounding it with Hobby Lobby and a bunch of chain fast-food restaurants provides some jobs, and save folks from having to drive so far for some good/services, but it doesn’t provide nearly enough jobs, particularly at incomes that prevent the need for second jobs miles away.

And meanwhile, the public transportation and walkscores down here are pathetic. Service on bus routes like the #53 on Isleta is far too infrequent and ends too early, despite passenger rates far exceeding other ABQ Ride routes with more frequent service. The “official” Walk Score for the area around that aforementioned Walmart is 47 out of 100, i.e., considered “car-dependent,” but that score still seems absurdly high to those unfortunate souls who try to walk anywhere near the place.

One neighborhood joke down here, funny because it’s true, is to point out how many tire stores we have in the South Valley. Signs for “llanteras” are found in abundance down Isleta and Coors Boulevard. And while installing tires and managing tire stores are definitely jobs, those dollars are often coming from folks who can’t afford new/used tires and only need them because their job is too far away.

It’s another of those vicious economic circles common to poor parts of town. And like just about all of those circles, not much effort seems on the horizon to stop the downward spiral.


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