A common hypothesis in social and urban studies is that the loss of blue-collar manufacturing jobs in the central city, through a combination of reasons (i.e. institutional barriers such as housing and labor market discrimination in the suburbs), has led to an increase in unemployment of black male residents in the central city.
A main reason for this increase in black male unemployment is the idea that these lost manufacturing jobs required relatively unskilled workers (i.e. workers with manual as opposed to cognitive skills). Thus, when the jobs in the central city were lost, many unemployed workers had few marketable skills, which prevented them from moving into other viable (in terms of pay and benefits) occupations.
Many white males, on the other hand, picked up their families and moved to the suburbs to live and work “white flight”. Black males remained behind because, for the most part, they faced housing and labor market discrimination which hindered their quest for other forms of work in the suburbs (Massey and Denton, 1993). As a result, black male unemployment increased in the inner city.
As late as 1970 over 70 percent of all blacks working in metropolitan areas held blue-collar manufacturing jobs (Kasarda 1993; Wilson 1987). In the central city the percentage of blacks working in these types of jobs increased to 80 percent (Kasarda, 1993). But, as the central city manufacturing job base declined so did the number of central city black males working in these jobs. Indeed, by 1992, Kasarda determined from Census Population Survey (CPS) data that only 50 percent of all central city black males were working in blue-collar positions (1993).
From 1959 to 1991, the percentage of central city residents living in poverty, increased from 27 percent to 43 percent (Kasarda, 1993). During the same time period, Kasarda found that the proportion of African-Americans living in poverty in central cities rose from 38 percent to 80 percent. Additionally, Downs (1994) found that in the 1980’s, the number and percentage of central city residents living in concentrated poverty neighborhoods rose sharply. He also found that cities with rapidly declining populations (loss of 4 percent or more between 1980 and 1990) had 16.83 percent of their population living in extreme poverty census tracts, and 23.5 percent of their population living on poverty incomes.
New Orleans, in specific, had 30.51 percent or 151,624 persons out of 497,000 total population living in extreme poverty census tracts, and 31.6 percent or 157,052 persons of 497,000 total population living with poverty incomes.
Blakely (1993) presents the following statistics from the years 1979 to 1987.
- First, Americans faced a decrease in the real hourly wages of 3.3 percent, and of workers laid off in 1987 only 41 percent found employment at or above their previous wage rate.
- Second, worker turnover rates in the U.S. increased to over 4 percent/month while Japan, the U.S.’s strongest foreign competitor, experienced a turnover rate of only 3.5 percent/year.
- Finally, the American job base expanded 48 percent, yet inner-city neighborhoods and rural communities continue with high poverty and unemployment rates because 60 percent of all jobs in the nation are now located in the suburbs.
In their 1992 study, Holzer and Vroman assessed the link between manufacturing job loss, and black male unemployment and labor force participation rates by analyzing CPS data and decennial censuses for 1970 and 1980 for 52 metropolitan areas. These authors concluded that black male (especially young and poorly educated) unemployment rates increased as manufacturing employment, as a share of total metropolitan employment, decreased. Additionally, Holzer and Vroman showed that this trend was valid when controlling for cyclical effects, and that black unemployment changes were felt similarly across the entire metropolitan area (central city vs suburb) or for the central county as manufacturing employment changed.
As this research stands, it appears to suggest that the spatial mismatch might not be as valid as previously thought. However, it is not clear whether these authors controlled for spatial effects within suburban areas across the metropolitan areas they studied. If they did not, then it is difficult to determine the impact of their study on the spatial mismatch theory as being a barrier to employment for black males because a spatial mismatch could exist within suburban areas. Research by Schneider and Phelan (1990) shows evidence of spatial mismatch within suburban areas. Also, Leete and Bania’s work (1995a) compliments what Schneider and Phelan found because it indicates some spatial mismatch for residents living in a public housing neighborhood which is located in the suburbs of Cleveland and Akron.
Johnson and Oliver confirm the research by Holzer and Vroman that black male unemployment increased as manufacturing employment decreased (1991; 1992). These authors further suggest that in deindustrializing and deconcentrating metropolitan areas central city blacks have been disadvantaged because of their poor skills preparation, lack of access to adequate transportation to and information about jobs in the suburbs (1992).