The Low-Wage Labor Market: Challenges and Opportunities for Economic Self-Sufficiency. Mismatch in the Low-Wage Labor Market: Job Hiring Perspective . Spatial Mismatch, Information, and "Contacts"


In addition to the problem of greater discrimination against blacks in suburban establishments, they may face limited access to these jobs because of the "spatial mismatch" problem noted above. Despite some modest recent declines in residential segregation between whites and blacks,(22) the geographic concentration of poor people and especially poor blacks in predominantly low-income neighborhoods is on the rise.(23)  While poor people and blacks, on average, live closer to currently existing jobs than do whites, they are generally located farther from areas of net employment growth.(24)  Job vacancy rates and wages are also higher in less-skilled jobs that are located in predominantly white suburbs rather than cities or racially mixed suburbs, suggesting better labor market opportunities for those with access to the former.(25)

Whether these factors have contributed to lower employment rates among blacks or low-income workers has been heavily contested in the economics literature, but the preponderance of recent evidence suggests that it has.(26)  Furthermore, some effort has recently been made to identify the specific mechanisms by which spatial mismatch operates. Transportation does, indeed, appear to play some role.

For instance, inner-city black workers without cars have more difficulty gaining suburban employment than do black workers with cars, and employers located near public transit stops attract more black applicants and new employees than do those located further away.(27)  Presumably, the access of low-income inner-city residents to suburban employers depends not only on the proximity of employers to mass transit stops, but also on the distance of various employers from low-income neighborhoods and the extent to which direct public transit routes are available between these sites (i.e., without the need to change buses or trains one or more times). Suburban areas located near the central city and those with significant minority residential populations will presumably be much more accessible than predominantly white areas located farther away.(28)

There is also some evidence, both direct and indirect, suggesting that the information available to inner-city blacks about job openings in predominantly white suburbs is limited as well.(29)  Finally, the ability of low-income females to engage in lengthy commutes to distant areas is likely to be limited by their child care needs. On average, women engage in shorter commutes than men.(30)

The issue of information about job openings suggests a more general problem facing blacks and perhaps other unskilled workers who live in low-income neighborhoods: their lack of "contacts" and connections in the labor market. While the role of informal contacts in the job search process is stressed elsewhere in this volume (by Henly), there are a few differences across ethnic and income groups in this process. For instance, the use of networks and contacts to generate employment has been very extensive among Hispanic immigrants.(31)  But among native-born blacks, these networks have been somewhat less effective in generating employment and have often generated jobs in predominantly black establishments that pay relatively low wages.(32)  For those minorities in poor communities where few adults reside, the lack of contacts with the labor market might be one of several mechanisms through which "social isolation" appears to limit their employment opportunities over time.(33)