Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

The Spatial Distribution of Black Employment between the Central City and the Suburbs

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

The Spatial Distribution of Black Employment between the Central City and the Suburbs

Article excerpt


Smock [1968], Kain [1968], and Leonard [1987] have shown that the share of jobs held by blacks is smaller in the suburbs in comparison to the central city. Little is known concerning the factors accounting for this skewness in the spatial distribution of black employment because of the absence of suitable data. A number of possible factors can be suggested. First, there may be no incentive to commute to the suburbs if wages are no higher or jobs no more available than within the central city. That is, the alleged spatial mismatch that has presumably created a surplus of less-educated workers living in the central city and a shortage of these workers living in the suburbs may in fact not exist. Second, the distances to jobs in the suburbs may make commuting to these jobs prohibitively costly and may limit the information readily available to urban blacks on suburban job opportunities. Third, Becker-type consumer and/or employer discrimination may cause employers to prefer hiring blacks in the central city or prefer hiring whites in suburban areas or both. Finally, in comparison to central city jobs, fewer suburban jobs are within walking distance of a public transit stop and many central city blacks do not own automobiles.(1)

From a policy perspective, it is crucial to determine the relative importance of the above explanations for black employment segregation. For example, based upon a belief in the spatial mismatch hypothesis, Kasarda [1989], Orfield [1985], Hughes [1989], Skinner [1989], and Wilson [1992] have recommended that improved public transportation be provided to reverse commuters. However, on its own, this strategy may not be particularly effective if blacks encounter greater hiring discrimination outside the central city and/or know little about suburban jobs.

To shed some light on the spatial distribution of black employment between the central city and the suburbs, this paper (1) provides some evidence on whether the central city labor market is tighter or looser than the suburban labor market for less-educated workers, (2) develops and estimates a model which explains the racial composition of firms' workforces, and (3) uses the parameter estimates from this model to investigate the relative importance of the aforementioned factors as explanations for black employment segregation. The data come from a survey which we conducted of the managers of 102 fast-food hamburger restaurants in the Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan area.

The results yield three conclusions. First, expected wages (the probability of employment times the wage rate) are higher in the suburbs than within the central city, which lends support to the spatial mismatch hypothesis and reinforces the need to understand the spatial distribution of black employment. Second, the manager's race, the percentage of the restaurant's customers who are white, distance from the central business district, and the proximity of the restaurant to mass transit are all found to have an important influence on the racial composition of the restaurant's crew. Third, all of these variables are found to play an important role in explaining the difference in black employment share between central city and suburban restaurants. Of particular interest is that approximately 36 percent of this difference can be attributed to the fact that suburban restaurants are less frequently served by public transit.

The next section reviews the literature on the spatial mismatch hypothesis and relates this hypothesis to black employment segregation. Section III describes the data. Evidence is presented on the quality and availability of suburban in comparison to central city jobs in section IV. A model of the racial mix of the restaurant's crew is developed in section V. The results from estimating this model are discussed in section VI. Policy implications and suggestions for future research conclude the paper.


The last half of the 1980s witnessed a revival of interest in the old idea that the suburbanization of jobs and involuntary housing market segregation have acted together to create a surplus of workers relative to the number of available jobs in inner-city neighborhoods where blacks are concentrated. …

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