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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.

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