Middle-class Americans pay a higher proportion of expenses for transportation

Driving and a suburban lifestyle comes with a price: recent data suggests the middle-class pays more for transportation that wealthier and poorer Americans.

In this case, the numbers show that middle-class Americans spend a much higher share of their total household annual expenditures on getting around, compared with the poorest and richest groups. Instead of gentle downward slopes, the transportation shares are closer to a bell curve (with the sixth decile added in for emphasis):

CityLab

The same surprising distribution holds true when we drill down into a subset of transportation costs. The middle-class pays an outsized share on gas, vehicle maintenance, car insurance, and “other” related expenses—with the fifth decile above the medians (4.9, 1.6, 2, and 5.1 percent, respectively) in every case…

The data don’t say why transportation is taking a disproportionate toll on middle-class wallets, but it’s not hard to target a confluence of factors: sprawling development, city housing affordability, poor transit investment, and the result of them all, car-reliance.

I wonder if this then means that driving is an aspirational activity: it offers independence and access to private suburban property but it can be quite costly. If you don’t have a certain level of income, such a lifestyle may not make much sense. But, after a certain point, one can aspire to join the wealthier people who can better afford it (and probably have nicer cars and bigger houses).

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