This may be why you can’t find a job, even in a tight labor market

The Urban Institute has released an analysis on spatial mismatch — how “a mismatch between where jobs are located and where job seekers live.”

It may be a job seeker’s market right now, but not everyone is finding success as they apply for positions in their hometown. One of the reasons why hourly, predominately minimum wage roles are going unfilled while potential workers remain jobless is spatial mismatch.

The Urban Institute has released an analysis on spatial mismatch — how “a mismatch between where jobs are located and where job seekers live” can mean “high unemployment rates and lead to longer spells of joblessness” across the country. Using the most recent data from online marketplace Snag (which is from 2017), the Institute looked at 16 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States to see how widespread the problem is.


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In Boston, for example, 41% of zip codes in 2017 had far more Snag job postings than job seekers. In New York, that number dropped to 32%, but another 15% of zip codes had far more job seekers than postings. In Washington, D.C., 12% of zip codes had job postings that far exceeded job seekers, while 21% had the opposite problem.

Many of these discrepancies boil down to affordable housing and public transit. Instead of jobs being a reasonable distance from one’s home, open positions require extensive and potentially costly travel for workers who are filling jobs with unpredictable schedules, low wages, and a lack of opportunity for growth.

Full-time jobs at restaurants, in retail or with customer service, for example, don’t always entice qualified candidates because of low pay, bad benefits and other deterrents.

“Ultimately businesses will have to ensure that their jobs are attractive to potential employees,” according to the analysis. “This might be through fair and predictable scheduling (many hourly jobs have unpredictable and irregular hours), improved benefits packages, transportation incentives, or higher wages. ”

Local governments can help as well, by developing affordable housing near job hubs or transit, and by creating transportation routes that cater to areas where service industry workers live.

As employers struggle to find staff and job seekers search for work options that are sustainable, spatial mismatch is a roadblock for everyone. Workers must be able to afford to report to their jobs, and employers need to have access to a qualified workforce that lives just out of their reach.


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Alexandra Villarreal|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at avillarreal@theladders.com.