13th annual Municipal Finance Conference


13th annual Municipal Finance Conference


Job Sprawl and the Spatial Mismatch between Blacks and Jobs

Michael Stoll
Michael Stoll Former Brookings Expert

February 1, 2005


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.