It's Race, Not Space

Discrimination Plays an Important Part in Unemployment in the Bay Area

by Kathleen Scalise

Despite arguments that unemployment in the African-American community can be attributed to physical isolation or lack of education, a new Berkeley study shows race itself remains the biggest factor.

"My findings clearly show race is the dominant factor," said Professor Robert Cervero of city and regional planning and co-author of the new report. "Even when we account for these other factors, a lot is left unexplained. There is still a very significant correlation between the color of a person's skin and unemployment."

For Bay Area employment centers studied from north of San Francisco to south of San Jose, "this model says racial discrimination is still a factor," Cervero said.

Published by the Institute of Urban and Regional Development, the report traces changes in access to job opportunities between 1980 and 1990 for 100 neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area. Counties surveyed include Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma.

The study evaluated the distance residents must travel each day to reach appropriate jobs, their levels of educational attainment, automobile ownership rates and racial composition.

It found that even when controlling for such factors, "African-American neighborhoods still have significantly higher unemployment rates than predominantly non-black neighborhoods," the report said. "In fact, race has a stronger influence on unemployment rates than any other explanatory variable."

Unemployment rates in the "predominantly African-American communities that were studied hovered in the 12 to 18 percent range, compared to joblessness rates of 4 to 8 percent found for the predominantly white neighborhoods that were in the sample," said Cervero. "These differentials held for both 1980 and 1990."

The Berkeley researchers calculate that 4 percent of the difference in unemployment can be attributed to living farther from appropriate jobs, 5 percent to lack of an automobile and 33 percent to the lower average level of education among African-Americans.

But this leaves race itself directly accounting for 58 percent of the difference in unemployment, suggesting job discrimination needs to be considered.

"It's not the finding I was hoping for," said Cervero. "Things like job accessibility and education we could address with better public policy. This is harder to resolve."

Cervero said the purpose of the project was to determine where people lived in relation to jobs and whether a better mix of housing and jobs was called for.

"Some scholars have argued that a root cause of joblessness and persistent poverty has been the increasing physical isolation, or inaccessibility, of inner-city residents, especially African-Americans, from job opportunities in suburbs," said Cervero.

This theory was first advanced in 1968 by John Kain of Harvard University and has generated controversy since, with some scholars considering it a smoke screen to society's more deeply rooted racial divisions. These scholars counter that lingering problems of overt racial discrimination better explain inner-city unemployment, framing the debate as "race, not space."

Cervero's findings come down mainly on the side of race for the Bay Area's 100 neighborhoods and 22 employment centers studied.

"While 'space,' or job accessibility, certainly matters in explaining unemployment in the San Francisco Bay Area, race and educational attainment matter a whole lot more," the report said. "Our findings clearly give more credence to 'race' than to 'space' in explaining persistent joblessness in the region."

"I'd like to stress that we did not study racism directly," said Cervero. "Rather our aim in this part of the study-and this is actually a small part of a bigger effort-was to uncover the importance of job accessibility in explaining black unemployment. Unfortunately it was not that important."

Cervero's larger goal is to collect information on the degree to which resource allocation decisions in the urban transportation field can redress serious inequities in accessibility to jobs, medical facilities and other important destinations.

Co-authoring the report with Cervero are graduate students Timothy Rood and Bruce Appleyard. This research was supported by a grant from the University of California Transportation Center.

For copies of the report, "Job Accessibility as a Performance Indicator: An Analysis of Trends and Their Social Policy Implications in the San Francisco Bay Area," contact the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at 642-4874.


Copyright 1998, The Regents of the University of California.
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