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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Where Youth Live: Economic Effects of Urban Space on Employment Prospects

  • Author(s): O'Regan, Katherine M.;
  • Quigley, John M.
  • et al.

This paper summarizes and synthesizes a series of empirical analyses investigating the role of urban space in affecting minority employment outcomes. It adds to the considerable (but inconclusive) literature by broadening the focus beyond transportation and the “friction of space,” and by expanding the data available for spatial research. The empirical analyses share a common framework linking “access” to youth labor market performance. The first set of results is based on aggregate data relating access to employment outcomes for black youth at the metropolitan level. Access is broadly defined to include traditional measures of geographic distance, as well as measures of social isolation or social access. Metropolitan areas in which the black poor are more spatially isolated are also found to have higher black youth unemployment rates. The second body of evidence relies on the same type of metropolitan measures, combined with individual data on youth living with at least one parent. When individual and family characteristics are controlled for, and white and Hispanic youth are also considered, metropolitan measures of social access exert distinguishable effects upon youth employment -- youth living in urban areas in which they have less residential contact with whites or the non poor are less likely to be employed. The final piece of analysis links the individual records of such youth to tract level measures of access, both social (neighborhood composition variables) and geographic (job access measures). This is accomplished through the creation of a unique data set at the Bureau of the Census. Again, after controlling for individual and family characteristics, the residential conditions of youth affect their employment. Ceteris paribus, youth living in census tracts with fewer employed adults, with fewer whites, and which are further from jobs are less likely to be employed. Results suggest that the overall effects of space on employment outcomes are substantial, explaining between ten and forty percent of the observed racial differences in employment in four urban areas examined. Of this “spatial” effect, the bulk arises from social/informational measures; job access appears to play a much smaller role. However, when measured more precisely, at the census tract level, job access does have a significant effect on youth employment. This effect is less important than other spatial influences. Spatial influences are less important in explaining outcomes than are differences in human capital.

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