The Spatial Mismatch Hypothesis: Employment and Job Accessibility in Cook County, Illinois
The economic revival of many U.S. cities can seem to eclipse the persistence of urban poverty and unemployment among black inner-city neighborhoods despite overall metropolitan growth. The spatial mismatch hypothesis posits that the negative labor market outcomes are attributable to the divergence in the location of low-skilled jobs and low-skilled workers. Residential segregation, coupled with decentralization and suburbanization, created a surplus of low-skilled labor in the central city that has been unable to equalize due to structural barriers, including labor market behavior, imperfect information, and poor transportation access. This paper did not find direct support for the spatial mismatch hypothesis in Cook County, Illinois census tracts. Job accessibility, as measured by mean commute times, was not significantly related to overall and white employment rates, and was actually found to have a marginally significant positive relationship with black employment. Variables measuring race, labor force quality, and concentrated poverty were highly significant, indicating that these factors may eclipse job accessibility as the main determinant of persistent inner-city unemployment. Policies that seek to ameliorate these factors will likely have a positive influence on employment rates. However, given the strong support for spatial mismatch in existing literature, a key finding of this paper may be not a disproof of the hypothesis, but a demonstration that neighborhood and labor quality are more important contributors to employment likelihood than mean commute time. Moreover, a more precise measure of job accessibility than mean commute time may be needed.
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