Putting Low-Income Workers Into Cars, Stable Jobs

Jacqueline Moore and Mary-Winston Deacon

Jacqueline Moore (right), 43, is a single mother from Madison, Heights, Va. She's standing by her newly purchased 1999 Ford Taurus next to Mary-Winston Deacon, the director of the Ways to Work program that provided Moore with a car loan. Rachel Jones, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Rachel Jones, NPR

For many low-income Americans, the only thing harder than finding a job is getting there each day. One nationwide program offers low-income workers affordable loans that can put them behind the wheel of a decent car, and on the road to economic stability.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Some of us are getting back to work on this day after a holiday. Others return over the weekend or get to wait until Monday. But not everybody has an easy time getting to work. One nationwide program offers low-income workers affordable loans that can put them behind the wheel of a decent car and on the road to economic stability.

NPR's Rachel Jones reports.

RACHEL JONES: When Jacqueline Moore travels down memory lane, it's always in a used car.

Ms. JACQUELINE MOORE: The first one I think was an Escort, and then the second was a Toyota Corolla.

JONES: You're leaving out the most important information - what color were they?

Ms. MOORE: For some reason, all were mainly red.

JONES: At 43, Moore's never had a brand new car. She's flipped burgers at Hardy's and helped out at a school for the disabled. For the last five years, she's had a job scrubbing floors and cleaning offices at a nuclear power plant. But it's not easy making her 10-mile commute from her home in Madison Heights, Virginia to Lynchburg.

Her 1993 Pontiac needs about $2,000 worth of repairs. There's no way she can come up with that much. She says it feels like she's working just to keep rickety old cars running.

Ms. MOORE: I fix one thing and then something else will break down. And then I did (unintelligible) I was like Lord, I need another car, because by the time I keep piecing this together I could have either bought one or found something that's in better running condition.

JONES: But for Moore and her 11-year-old son Leshod(ph), Christmas came a little early this year, in the form of a more reliable used car.

Ms. MOORE: It is a '99 Ford Taurus, white, automatic, and it's nice and roomy for me and my son.

JONES: Moore's two sisters told her about the Ways to Work Program. It provides car loans for low-income working parents who can't get a loan on their own.

Mr. PETER GOLDBERG (President and CEO, Alliance for Children and Families): This is not a hand-out, this is a hand-up.

JONES: Peter Goldberg is president and CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families. That nonprofit group oversees Ways To Work.

Mr. GOLDBERG: If you currently have a used car that day in and day out you don't know if it's going to start in the morning and you don't know if that car is going to last another week, what do you do? Where is your safety net?

JONES: Ninety-two percent of the program's clients are female; two-thirds are single; 60 percent are African American. All of them are parents and they all have jobs. The biggest loans are for $4,000, at a maximum rate of eight percent. Jacqueline Moore got $2,900 and $131 monthly payments.

Before she picks up her car, Moore has some paperwork to finish. That means a trip to the bank. Lisa Paxton(ph) is a loan assistant for American National Bank and Trust in Lynchburg.

Ms. LISA PAXTON (American National Bank and Trust): Come on in here. (unintelligible) Hi, Jacqui.

JONES: Paxton goes over the details.

Ms. PAXTON: The back of this note is going to go over your grace period, the interest rate, your payment rebates, anything like that.

Ms. MOORE: Okay.

JONES: Moore knows the routine. Last year she got a loan for her house through the USDA's Rural Development Program. She knows it'll be tight covering a $522 mortgage payment and a car payment. Ways to Work provided her with financial counseling and debt consolidation. It also helped her create a budget.

Some policy makers think these kinds of programs may be throwing good money after bad by sinking low-income working families deeper into debt. But over and over, research shows that the two major barriers to employment for poor families are lack of child care and transportation. With cashier's check in hand, Moore and Ways to Work program director Mary Winston Deacon head over to Thomas Autoworks. They're picking up her white four-door sedan.

Ms. MOORE: Okay, now, we're here.

Ms. MARY-WINSTON DEACON (Program Director, Ways to Work Program): Yes.

JONES: No more red cars for her. As they pull into the lot, Moore's smile gleams as brightly as her new car.

Ms. MOORE: Now, where is it? Right there.

Ms. DEACON: Right there.

Ms. MOORE: That's it.

Ms. DEACON: Yes (unintelligible).

Ms. MOORE: Oh.

JONES: It's got a 107,000 miles on it, but Moore says it's just perfect - good tires, comfortable seats, and an engine that starts up every time you turn the key.

(Soundbite of car engine starting)

Ms. MOORE: (Unintelligible) start, now I gotta get used to the quietness.

JONES: Rachel Jones, NPR News.

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