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Some employers discriminate against applicants with longer commutes


Low-wage employers in Washington, D.C., discriminate against applicants with longer commutes and those with stereotypically “black” names, says a study forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources.

The study finds that when presented with otherwise similar resumes, hiring managers who are trying to fill a position that requires only a high school diploma are less likely to call back applicants who live farther away. Applicants from distant communities get 14 percent fewer callbacks than those living nearby.

Regardless of where they live, individuals with “black sounding” names such as Tremayne, Darnell and Lakisha are 6 percentage points less likely to hear from hiring managers than applicants with “white” names such as Neil, Todd and Jill, according to the study.

The study’s author, David C. Phillips, an associate professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame, writes that these findings could have important public policy implications. He suggests that policies aimed at moving lower-income adults closer to jobs or better public transportation systems may improve their chances of securing work.

A 2007 study from scholars at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Harvard University finds that public housing residents did not improve their work status after moving to higher-income areas, Phillips notes. That study, which focused on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing” program, finds “no significant overall effects of this intervention on adult economic self-sufficiency or physical health.”

“If employers respond to commute distance in DC, then they likely would in other cities with greater sprawl and poor public transportation,” Phillips writes. “Thus, Washington provides a useful context. It exhibits a typical disconnect between where low-wage workers live and where they work which parallels many other U.S. cities.”

For his study, Phillips and his research team sent 2,260 fictional resumes in response to 565 low-wage job vacancies between May 2014 and August 2014. The typical made-up applicant was 41 years old, had a high school diploma and eight years of work experience and had been unemployed for three months. Half of applicants were male and half were female.

Phillips also gave one-quarter of these fictitious applicants “ambiguous” names, or names that are as likely to belong to a black person as a white person — names such as Jason, Brian, Ashley and Christina. The remaining applicants got either stereotypical white or black names.

Phillips and his team tracked which resumes received positive responses or “callbacks” — for example, phone calls asking to set up interviews or e-mails asking for more information. The researchers did not include negative responses such as rejection emails.

Applicants who were considered to live near the job for which they were applying listed addresses about three miles away, on average. Those considered to be far away from a job listed addresses that were five to six miles away.

Here are some other key takeaways of the study, titled “Do Low-Wage Employers Discriminate Against Applicants with Long Commutes? Evidence from Correspondence Experiment:”

  • Hiring managers are most likely to call back applicants with addresses in nearby, high-income areas. These applicants hear back from employers 20.7 percent of the time.
  • Applicants who give home addresses located in distant, low-income areas are least likely to hear from employers. They receive callbacks 17 percent of the time.
  • Applicants who list home addresses in distant, affluent areas are less likely to be called back than those giving addresses in nearby, affluent areas. The same is true for adults from poor communities — those living farther away are less likely to get callbacks than those living closer to employers.
  • “Callback rates fall by 1.1 percentage points for every mile an applicant moves away from the job, holding neighborhood affluence constant.”


Looking for more research on work-related discrimination? Check out our write-ups on workplace sex discrimination and on “Ban the Box” policies, which prevent employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications.



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Citation: Phillips, David C. “Do Low-Wage Employers Discriminate Against Applicants with Long Commutes? Evidence from a Correspondence Experiment,” Journal of Human Resources, forthcoming.  DOI: 1016-8327R.