Socioeconomic Differences in Household Automobile Ownership Rates: Implications for Evacuation Policy

The devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina laid bare many of the disparities that continue to separate Americans by race and class. One disparity that was immediately apparent in Katrina’s aftermath concerned the size and composition of the area’s populations that lacked access to an automobile. These households, largely dependent on the limited emergency public transportation available to evacuate the city in advance of the storm, were the most likely to be left behind. In New Orleans, this population seemed quite large in size – and overwhelmingly black. In this paper, we document differences in car-ownership rates between racial and socioeconomic groups. We present patterns for the nation as a whole as well as for the pre-Katrina New Orleans metropolitan area using data from the 2000 5% Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) of the U.S. Census of Population and Housing. We also present estimates of the number of people for all U.S. metropolitan areas that reside in a household without access to an automobile. Finally, we explore the relationship between residential housing segregation and spatial proximity to other households without access to automobiles among African-Americans.