Applicants may be losing out on job opportunities because of long commutes, a recent study says.
Researchers with the University of Notre Dame found that employers hiring for low-wage jobs in Washington, DC, are more likely to hire applicants with shorter commutes times, reports CityLab. Those who live farther from the city center, but with equal qualifications, were called back 14% less often, according to the study.
While the study did not reveal strong evidence that hiring managers based their decisions on the racial make-up or average income levels of outlying neighborhoods, there is a notable connection between race, income, and access to jobs in US cities. As of 2016, the median household income in for white families living in Washington, DC, was over $100,000 more than that of African American households.
In Boston the wealth gap is even more extreme. The median net worth of a white family is $247,500 while the median worth of an African American family is $8, reports the Boston Globe. As of 2014, the city's unemployment rate was twice as high for black workers.
A study in 2017 determined that nationally, white applicants receive on average 36% more callbacks than equally qualified African Americans and 24% more callbacks than Latinos. Hiring discrimination against African Americans has not decreased since the research began in 1989.
Referring to applicants who have longer commute times and are black, Notre Dame economist David C. Phillips told CityLab, "If somebody puts both of those things on their application, they are going to get both of those penalties."
Washington, DC, is not the only city in the US or globally that has a "spatial mismatch" between low-wage jobs and working class communities. In many parts of the world, low-wage jobs are clustered in urban areas, but those who typically work them can't afford to live in city centers.
In Washington, DC, a gentrification map shows that centrally located neighborhoods have become unaffordable, displacing low-income residents, many of whom are black, reports City Lab. DC has long been a majority-minority city, however the percentage of African Americans living in the district itself has dropped by 11% in the past decade.
A similar trend can be seen in New York City, where gentrification has been largely driven by access to reliable transportation. Neighborhoods close to the city center and reliable trains in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx have been the first to gentrify, pricing out long-time residents. In 2018, the average rental price of a two-bedroom home in Manhattan is $3,662, as compared to $2,275 in 1992.
In New York, the problem is underscored by subway fares, which continue to rise. The price of a single ride on the subway was $1.50 in 1995. As of 2015, it has gone up to $2.75, posing a financial barrier to many New Yorkers.
Together, transportation discrimination and gentrification can create a poverty trap for low-income communities. An ongoing study on social mobility trends, based at Harvard, found that "commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty," reports the New York Times.
NYC Subway / Wikimedia Commons
For the past 80 years, urban development has highly favored white, upper-middle class people and made it difficult for people with low incomes and communities of color to move up the economic ladder.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, urban renewal redefined the geography of many American cities. Redlining — race-based housing loan discrimination — forced communities of color to live in poor, under-resourced neighborhoods; meanwhile, white families flocked to the suburbs. In New York City, highways like the Bronx Expressway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway plowed through neighborhoods, where residents have been subject pollution and social consequences as a result.
In recent decades, cities have turned around economically. Due to increased job opportunities and lifestyle, cities have become magnets for upper-class families, young professionals, and wealthy internationals. However, yet again, this development trend has come at the expense of low-income communities, who now face skyrocketing rent prices and cultural displacement. Gentrification across US and European cities is pushing low income and communities of color to the fringes — to under-resourced neighborhoods, further from low-wage jobs and reliable transit.
The future of American cities depends on more efficient and equitable transportation that serves everyone.