Job Sprawl and the Spatial Mismatch between Blacks and Jobs


An analysis of data on the location of people and jobs, including a "job sprawl" measure of employment decentralization, for metropolitan areas in 2000 finds that:

  • Metropolitan areas with higher levels of employment decentralization exhibit greater spatial mismatch between the relative locations of jobs and black residents. Detroit, for example, has one of the highest levels of job sprawl among the 102 largest metropolitan areas, and blacks are extremely physically isolated from jobs there. Conversely, Greenville, SC, and other southern and western metropolitan areas rank low on both job sprawl and spatial mismatch for blacks.
  • Greater job sprawl is associated with higher spatial mismatch for blacks, but not for whites. The relationship between these measures also holds for Latinos but to a lesser extent. Overall, metropolitan job sprawl is nearly twice as important a factor affecting spatial mismatch for blacks as for Latinos.
  • Blacks are more geographically isolated from jobs in high job-sprawl areas regardless of region, metropolitan area size, and their share of metropolitan population. Still, the gap in spatial mismatch for blacks between high and low job-sprawl areas is wider in the Midwest, in metropolitan areas with a larger black share of the population, and in small- to medium-sized metropolitan areas.
  • Metropolitan areas characterized by higher job sprawl also exhibit more severe racial segregation between blacks and whites. Adjusted for metropolitan area size, the average level of racial segregation is 15 percent higher in high job-sprawl areas than in low job-sprawl areas. This indicates that black/white segregation may be one mechanism through which metropolitan job sprawl translates into greater spatial mismatch for blacks.

The results strongly suggest that job sprawl exacerbates certain dimensions of racial inequality in America. By better linking job growth with existing residential patterns, policies to promote balanced metropolitan development could help narrow the spatial mismatch between blacks and jobs, and improve their employment outcomes over time.