Long Commutes or Neighborhood Perceptions: Why Do Employers Avoid Applicants from High-Poverty Neighborhoods?
David C. Phillips, Hope College


Why do employers discriminate against job applicants who reside in poor, distant neighborhoods? Previous research indicates that employers call back applicants from these neighborhoods at lower rates, but the motivation for employer discrimination based on residential neighborhood remains unclear. Employers could be responding to long commuting distances, which could lead to higher employee absence/tardiness rates or fatigue on the job. On the other hand, employers may perceive workers from particular neighborhoods to be lower quality workers, on average, and thus discriminate based on neighborhood characteristics such as poverty or racial composition rather than distance to the job. The distinction between discrimination based on commuting distance versus neighborhood characteristics matters for public policy. Some policy responses, such as public transit improvements, may be appropriate if employers respond to distance itself but not if they respond to fixed neighborhood attributes.
However, no experimental studies have measured the extent to which distance vs. neighborhood affluence motivate discrimination based on residential location. The present study addresses this gap using a job application audit experiment. I experimentally vary residential addresses of fictional applicants to real jobs in Washington, DC. Distance to job and neighborhood characteristics will be controlled experimentally via the address listed on the job application, allowing me to measure separately how employers respond to applicants from distant neighborhoods versus poor/black/less-educated neighborhoods. This study was piloted during summer 2013 and has been demonstrated to be feasible. In the present grant application, I aim to obtain support for expanding the sample to the size necessary for a complete, publishable academic study.


David C. Phillips, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Economics, Hope College

David C. Phillips is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  His research includes work on migration of skilled health professionals, staffing and compensation in public health systems of developing countries, and the functioning of low-wage labor markets in the United States.