Public Release: 

Black joblessness blamed on multilayered segregation

Their location uniquely detrimental to jobless black men

University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The first comprehensive study of the location of unemployed men in metropolitan areas, has found that jobless black men occupy a uniquely disadvantageous "ecological niche" that severely limits their potential for future employment.

The multivariate study, "Race, Residential Segregation, Suburbanization and the Spatial Segregation of Jobless Men," was produced by sociologist Robert L. Wagmiller, Ph.D., at the University at Buffalo. It was presented this week to the American Sociological Association at its 100th annual conference in Philadelphia.

The study examines the structure of spatial segregation and its effects on both the employment opportunities available to jobless men of different racial and ethnic groups (white, black, Asian and Hispanic) and the challenges they are likely to confront in obtaining and sustaining employment.

In North America, spatial segregation refers to the fact that social and ethnic minorities tend to be segregated in less desirable, inner-city locales while the upper- and middle-class majority dispurses into small, socially homogenous urban neighborhoods or suburbs across the metropolis.

Wagmiller found that highly concentrated joblessness unique among black men is produced by the multidimensional layering of segregation in urban America, and that it also creates unique challenges for the neighborhoods in which these men reside.

His study is the first examine the spatial segregation of jobless Hispanic and Asian men, and the first to study such segregation using data from the 2000 census.

Wagmiller found that unemployed white, Asian and Hispanic men were somewhat uniformly distributed throughout the hundreds of metropolitan areas he studied. In the case of jobless black men, however, the dimensions of their segregation in deteriorating neighborhoods empirically overlap, creating a situation that isolates them from the employed, possible jobs and realistic wages, and diminishes the likelihood that they will be able upgrade their economic and social situations.

The study examined on the spatial location of jobless men in 331 U.S. metropolitan areas defined by the Office of Management and Budget on June 30, 1999 (OMB 1999). Data came from Census 2000 Summary File 3 (SF3), which includes counts for all tracts of the number of employed and jobless men between the ages of 16 and 64 by racial and ethnic group.

Segregation indices were calculated separately for jobless white, black, Hispanic, and Asian men in all independent and primary metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).

Indices were not computed for racial and ethnic groups with less than 1,000 jobless men in a metropolitan area. Indices for these groups, says Wagmiller, are likely to be unduly influenced by random factors affecting settlement patterns and geographic boundary errors, resulting in indices that are less reliable than those for groups with larger jobless male populations.

The study found that spatially, black men tend to be concentrated in aging, deteriorating central city neighborhoods, where there are few employment opportunities of any kind. Because jobless rates are high in these neighborhoods, black men have much more limited opportunities for social contact with employed men. Thus, it is more difficult for them to access informal job networks and learn about employment opportunities.

"In addition," Wagmiller says, "studies have shown, employers are unlikely to recruit workers from these neighborhoods.

"This concentrated unemployment in these neighborhoods fosters a culture of joblessness and despair that in and of itself impedes achievement and the likelihood of future stable employment," he says.

"Even when such black men can secure employment, their disadvantageous 'ecological niche' substantially increases their commuting time and employment costs," Wagmiller says. "This may account for the high reservation wages and quit rates for black men reported by other studies."

A "reservation wage" is the specific wage rate at which an individual is induced to perform paid market work. Wages offered below a worker's reservation wage tend to keep that worker from participating in the labor force.

"Four decades of research on racial and ethnic differences in men's employment patterns has increasingly emphasized how spatial factors contribute to poor employment outcomes for minority men," Wagmiller says. "Now we know that for jobless black men, in particular, their residential location has a very negative impact on their employment futures." And vice versa.

Wagner says, "Unemployment concentrated in a neighborhood has been proven to produce economic conditions that foster illicit economic activity and other criminal activity. It has been found to disrupt family formation processes and to increase non-marital childbearing.

"It drains distressed neighborhoods of much needed resources," he says, "and fosters a culture of dependency, despair and joblessness that impedes achievement and helps to transmit disadvantage across generations."

Wagmiller says that because of the precious lack of data about the spatial distribution of the unemployed across metropolitan areas, studies may have underestimated substantially the isolation that jobless black men experience and the consequences that follow.

An assistant professor of sociology at UB, Wagmiller's research and publications focus on the effects of poverty and various public policies on family behavior and the social, emotional and cognitive development of children.


The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. The university offers the only degrees in law, pharmacy and architecture in the SUNY system, and is the home of the only comprehensive public school of engineering and only school of informatics in New York State.

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