Arizona State University Professor David King and two colleagues, Michael Manville at UCLA and Michael Smart at Rutgers, decided to look at the falling socioeconomic status of carless people in the United States. In a paper published in 2019, they found that the poverty rate among carless families rose between 1960 and 2014, at the same time the number of poor people with a car increased 20 percent. The way a car unlocks access to almost everything ensures that most people will, despite the costs, do whatever they can to obtain one.
What surprised King was how pronounced the income gap between car owners and the carless was in much of the country. The disparity between an auto-owning household and a carless household was about as large as it is between a homeowner and renter. “We were really surprised that the relationship is as stark as it is,” King said.