There is a long-standing debate in public policy over whether job development strategies should be targeted at people or place, or both. In other words, should these strategies be designed to get people to where the jobs are or should jobs be located where people live?
Most economic development strategies of the 1970’s and 1980’s were place oriented strategies which tended to limit their success. Where they might have been successful ventures for their host cities (in terms of revitalization and social gains), these strategies tended to have little or no impact on job creation strategies designed for residents of the city who needed them most: the city’s disadvantaged, low income citizens (Cleveland Tomorrow, 1992; Krumholz, 1994; Marlin, 1990; Rosentraub, Swindell, Przybylski, and Mullins, 1994).
Often, the unemployed and underemployed workforce remained so because jobs that were provided in low-income areas where they were needed could not be fully taken advantage of by readily available unemployed workers because they lacked the proper job skills that the jobs required. A second, equally devastating blow to the employable but disadvantaged, was that large amounts of jobs had located to the suburbs. This meant that these jobs were not available to many central city residents because personal transportation costs made these jobs financially unreachable.
Public transportation systems offer little option for those who need to commute to the suburbs. The design of these systems is to bring people to the inner city to work, rather than to take people from the inner city out to the suburbs to work. Therefore, these systems are too inefficient and inflexible to provide services to employment destinations in the suburbs due, in part, to the low-density, dispersed nature of suburban employment opportunities (Downs, 1994; Leete and Bania, 1995a).
Kain (1968) was the first to formulate the spatial mismatch hypothesis. As he described it, mismatch is the distribution of and reduced opportunities for black employment as a result of housing market discrimination and urban area job loss. As Kain argued, job search and commuting costs, and discrimination by employers who were driven by their desire to appease the wishes of their white customers were the result of residential segregation, which tended to isolate minorities from living in areas of employment growth (i.e. in the suburbs).
Expanding on Kain’s reasearch, this study considers spatial mismatch a bit more generally. It examines the relationship between where low-skilled, low-income central city residents live and where jobs for which they qualify, and that pay a liveable wage are located, regardless of causality (i.e. housing and labor market discrimination).
Leete and Bania assess the spatial mismatch for welfare recipients and residents in a public housing neighborhood located in the outskirts of Cleveland (1995a), and for welfare recipients residing in a federally designated Empowerment Zone in the heart of the inner city (1995b). Leete and Bania’s results indicate:
- The skill levels, and job experience of welfare recipients residing in the outlying public housing neighborhood and in the Empowerment Zone are low, and that most of the occupations that these persons might have access to, given their skills and experience, pay relatively low wages and benefits;
- That these two sets of residents who wish to establish long-term economic security through better paying occupations will require at least two to three years of education training; and
- That even if skills training were received, significant spatial mismatch exists between the residence and expected location of new job openings for both population groups. Although the outlying neighborhood is located in a high-growth area near highways, the residents are isolated from employment opportunities in other parts of the metropolitan area because of poor local public transit system access near the neighborhood, and private transportation for the residents are limited (Personal Communication, Leete, 1996).