THE EQUITY LENS | No driver’s license, no employment


In the conversations about unemployment and poverty, “personal responsibility” and “self sufficiency” are loaded words thrown around to suggest that the unemployed and the poor should take control of their life, get a job, and pay their fair share of taxes, rather than “freeloading” off the state.  

While I disagree with the language used and assumptions that simplify the plight of the poor, I would have to agree that employment is important and essential to economic empowerment. Ask the poor what they need the most, and the answer is not “more benefits,” but “a job.”

Job Growth and Opportunities

The Department of Employment and Economic Development Department (DEED) reported that 9,500 jobs were added in December, bringing total job gains in the state to 45,900 in the past year. Of the industrial sectors, the construction industry is up 6,500 jobs from a year ago, a 7.5 percent growth rate that is more than triple the U.S. growth rate of 2.2 percent in that industry.

It’s important to note that the construction industry pays particularly well ranging from an hourly wage of $15 to $30, way above the minimum wage. We often see the poor stuck in low paying jobs with little to no chance of career advancement, but an industry like construction allows for promotion, where the hourly wage/ salary can increase, and is a felon-friendly job field. With the disproportionate amount of low income and people of color bearing the brunt of incarceration, this is a real opportunity to decrease cyclical poverty and end the prison pipeline.

As usual, a Catch 22

In our commitment to close the gap and fight for economic and racial justice, efforts have been focused on work readiness, and education and training because employment means empowerment. But can you believe that a person with work experience, a degree, and reliable transportation, can be rendered unemployable because of an invalid driver’s license?

The construction field, like many others, requires that you have reliable transportation; it is necessary to have valid driver’s license in a field where you may be working on various construction projects. With fines that can increase dramatically because of late fees and charges, we subject low income communities to penalties that we, those who can afford it, can pay off easily, while for others it is a damaging setback that can exclude them from opportunities, all because of fines unrelated to public safety.

In a Wisconsin study of the impact of driver’s license suspension on low income communities from 1992-1996, 58 percent of suspensions were among adults 18 to 55 who failed to pay parking fines, rather than fines for unsafe driving. In New Jersey, the largest number of driver’s license suspensions in 2000 was for failure to pay insurance surcharges, while parking ticket fines came in second.

So even if a person goes through training and certification to become a construction worker, and they graduate at the top of their class, if they have a suspended or revoked license, they are unemployable? Are we really allowing people to be in poverty and excluding them from opportunities because they don’t have a valid driver’s license?

A System of Barriers

Not only is this a legal barrier to employment, but it is an economic issue that disproportionately bars people of color and low income communities from gaining employment. Many fields of work require a valid driver’s license, not just construction, so this is a large scale employment issue. In the efforts to create and meet the demands of the job market, the conversations our politicians are having about “self sufficiency” should focus on the barriers to employment. We have people who are trained and ready to work, but they can’t be “responsible” because the system remains laced with barriers that pull them down.

No matter what, it seems, the People just can’t win.

11 thoughts on “THE EQUITY LENS | No driver’s license, no employment

  1. What about people with disabilities? They are simply thrown to the curb no matter how many degrees and work related skills they have, yet fifty percent CANNOT get a license or cannot drive a regular vehicle (and probably can’t afford the necessary modifications) … so is it all right just to deny them opportunities?

    My income went down by 85% in the same year I lost my license due to a medical issue and I only found out about it after the appeal period was over. I have to start all over as a new driver and part of the graduated system where I live, you have to have a fully licensed driver who had their license for at least four years in the passenger seat beside you for eight months to a year, until you do your regular tests … and as a 56 year person, I have nobody to do this with. The government has to do several things to remedy this, if they want to carry on this myth that driving is a privilege:
    1. Make it illegal to discriminate against people that do not drive a motor vehicle, unless it is
    a crucial part of the job (e.g. a bus driver, taxi driver, a courier, delivery person);
    2. Make public transit accessible, reliable, convenient and efficient everywhere, so that all that
    do not drive have a real alternative way of getting around; and
    3. Put an age limit on the graduated license scheme. If you had a license before and need to
    renew it or reinstate past the appeal period, then you should be able to get it under the
    old way if you are over say, thirty five years of age.

  2. The whole drivers license laws are so unfair. They will give a drunk driver certain time privileges to drive. But someone who made some financial mistakes cause of being a working single mom and didn’t have money to afford to have insurance can’t get a restricted license to drive to work to feed there family and make money to get license fines paid well what do we do, we go on welfare and my family suffers and I can’t be a productive citizen and get nowhere. It’s not fair and rules should be changed. How long has this law been in place. It’s time for a change and make it hard on drivers who get behind the wheel and could kill a whole family. Could be mine cause I had to take chance to drive to grocery store or hospital to take care of my family. I hope someone reads this and it touches them the way it has effected my family life.

    • They don’t just hand out restricted licenses for dui convictions anymore they take your license and you have to pay around $2000 total which means that unless you’re a rich drunk you won’t be going to work to contribute to the economy or pay for your mistakes. The laws of this country are as corrupt as the makers and only designed to cause debts, poverties, and larger inmate counts.

  3. I’m from Maine and am in this same situation…plus a ruling against me from the state. They ruled against me when I wasn’t working, after 18 months. So at first I “owed” about 7500.00. It was not a fair decision on the states part…I wasn’t working but now I have to pay that back? Plus high interest?! But I can’t because of my revoked license, due to a missed fine payment… I must owe 10k by now with no means of transportation…or a job. I lost my business I owed and successfully operated for 6 years, because of the license issue. This whole ordeal has been a nightmare and I see no relief in sight. At least for the three years in which they suspended my license. No appeals, no exceptions, I’m stuck and live in the country where there are no jobs as well, let alone public transportation. I don’t know what to do. I also have two children. Thank god my wife works but she only makes about 22k/yr… I’ve never had a problem of this sort, no trouble with the law, just financial trouble that led to this, and I feel like I’m treated as a criminal. I’m so frustrated, I don’t know what to do.

    • It’s ridiculous how much fees can add up and set a person back. Unfortunately, the majority of people who face the barrier of an invalid license due to unpaid fees are nonviolent offenders (i.e. unpaid parking ticket, no insurance, etc). The repercussions of unpaid fees are draconian seeing that cities like Saint Paul are majorly full of the working class. There have been some discussions in Minnesota to address this, but no sense of urgency to do anything at a larger level. Hopefully this can be prioritize in the labor and employment movement. I hope the best for you and your family!

  4. it doesn’t matter if you are violent or non-violent type. People need access to jobs. Stay on point…we are all people who things can happen to ,that need access to jobs whether we have a vehicle or not. people that have license suspensions are penalized so heavily that they contribute to unemployment no matter if they are good workers or have job experience. I agree change is definitely needed & they need to quit using employment services to hire people. worst contributer to unemployment, because the companies hiring don’t get a feel for the people they are hiring. Reading about people like they are a simple text is not doing the company or applicants any favors…I could go on & on ,but suffice it to say that change always takes many years & getting to the people that truly cares. problem: NO one cares anymore!!! Straight up truth…this is why criminal activity rises everyday , because decent people can’t afford to take care of their families w/out a job,so they resort to stealing to feed their families…

  5. It is beyond a catch 22. To be employed for a position, that requires a drivers license, when it does not apply to the job description, and qualifications for the job are met . what is the sense of requiring a drivers license. what is the cause of this unfounded bias. That discriminates on anyone . agreed, if it is necessary to operate a motor vehicle for the job, it is understandable and justified. But what is the true cause for this irrational requirement . it does feel as if it violates constitutional rights.

    • I was just denied a great work opportunity through manpower in Camden Arkansas. mind this is supposed to be an EQUAL opportunity job placement services. The hiring manager told me that I can’t ride with anyone to work if I don’t have my own transportation. Then told me that its government required to have a drivers license to work for spectra technologies. People are out here willing to work to attempt to get ahead but are being denied fair equal opportunities. What does a drivers license have to do with the ability to do a job? If you’re not applying for a driving position a drivers license shouldn’t be needed.

  6. I have to pay tickets in order to get my liscense. In order for me to pay my tickets i need money. In order for me to get money to pay these tickets i need a job. In order for me to get a job i need a licsense. Round and round we go when will they cut the crap and allow anyone over the age of 30 drive

  7. In my area i live,Owego Ny, there is no public transportation out of this town,where there is actually some real prospects . THE worst of it is, the few jobs that actually pay a few dollars above min. wage here requires a drivers license for no reason it seems, and has nothing to do with driving. I had my privileges to drive in NYS revoked due to alcohol convictions, and on top of that my child support is so far in arrears(over 11,000$)it is almost unrealistic to even begin to get my privileges back before i am 80 yrs.old.I think this system is total bunch of crap.They have made it damn near impossible for someone like me ,with kids,who wants to contribute to society and the economy and better his life and get out of poverty.i dont know what they expect some people to do.This is supposed to be America, and everyone should have an opportunity to work.Something definitely needs to be changed with this society and these regulations these geniuses created. I know i cant be the only one stuck on going nowhere fast here!Can somebody help with some suggestions..ANYONE!PLEASE HELP.

  8. Michigan has some of the most draconian driving suspension laws in the USA.

    Get a second DUI in MI, you could end up barred for life from getting a driver’s license. They say “just go ask this panel of people who don’t care if you live or die if you can get your license back”. People have asked year after year, and been denied even if they have gone through every hoop set out for them in this extraordinarily beaurocratic process.

    Driving isn’t a privilege, it is a necessity to survive for far greater than half of this country. These abusive and discriminatory laws regarding “asking a panel for your life back” need to be repealed.

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