Since this is the time of the year when students around the country are detailing “How I spent my summer vacation” to their teachers, I felt I should do the same. Well, I did not take much of a vacation – don’t feel sorry for me, it was my choice – but I do have some interesting summer stories to tell.

Long story short: I spent this summer learning some hard lessons about cars. In particular, one lesson I learned is that we, as a society, are utterly dependent on cars – perhaps even too dependent.

Yes, I know there has been a bonanza of new delivery systems such as Uber and Grubhub and the like. But what if I want to drive to a state park? What if I want to browse books in a library? What if I want to see a friend who lives in the next town?

And what if my job is farther than walking distance from my home? Or, even if I can walk it, it’s a rainy-snowy day that makes foot travel difficult?

We need cars, which became clear when my car’s transmission died and I was left without one. And last week U.S. News & World Report released a study that shows car ownership is not cheap. Minnesota ranks in the middle of our 50 states in terms of the cost of owning a car, pegging that number at $5,534 per year. Frankly, it’s just not automatic for some people to afford a car.

And that was another lesson I learned: At times, it’s difficult to understand the situations of others.

Just getting to and from work can be so difficult, it makes it impossible for someone without dependable transportation to hold down a job. I am fortunate that I live close enough to my office that I can walk or ride a bike, and I had lots of friends who helped with rides when I needed them (thanks again, Russ and Sabrina and Rachel B. and Dylan and Jorge and Jim and Rachel K.!).

But others may not be that fortunate.

And not having dependable transportation is just one barrier that may keep someone from holding down a job. Another is affordable and reliable child care. Generally speaking, child care has become more scarce and more expensive thanks to COVID-19; the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the average cost of infant child care in Minnesota is $1,341 per month, and only three other states have higher average annual child care costs.

The child care for a 4-year-old drops only slightly to $1,021 each month. Someone taking a job that pays $17 an hour would need to work 60 hours just to pay their child care costs for a month.

Please understand, I’m not saying I have the solutions – heck, it took me more than a month to solve my car problem. But when I hear folks complain about the unemployed not rushing back to fill jobs, I cringe. It is just not that simple, and that is a lesson I learned this summer by not having a car.

I hope teachers are proud that I learned something this summer!

John Wagner is the sports editor of the Forest Lake Times.

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