The best deal in town? Associations between public housing and labor market inequality in the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner MSA
Economic inequality for racial and ethnic minority groups, exacerbated by their spatial segregation, has been a central focus in urban geography. While there is accumulating research examining the socio-spatial process of urban labor market inequality, there are few systematic, geographic analyses incorporating public housing into examinations of this process. What is the role of public housing developments in racial and ethnic minorities' labor market experiences? How have public housing approaches changed over time, especially given the impacts of the storm? How have possible impacts of public housing developments on labor market outcomes changed before and after Hurricane Katrina? In addressing these questions, the objective of this study is to determine how public housing developments interact with residential segregation and employment decentralization in forging racial and ethnic labor market inequality along three dimensions: opportunities for employment, occupational concentration in various levels of the labor market hierarchy, and job earnings. The analyses are conducted in the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) where disparities between African Americans and whites have been long rooted in its regional history. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, however, the social, economic, and demographic landscapes in this region have gone through tremendous changes. In particular, Hurricane Katrina forced the large-scale redevelopment of New Orleans' public housing to a mixed-income model which has dramatically transformed many former, current, and very likely future residents' lives in many ways. Data used in this study are extracted from three sources: confidential long form microdata from the 2000 decennial census and 2007-2011 American Community Survey (ACS) with special approval from the U.S. Census Bureau; public housing data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) A Picture of Subsidized Households 2000 and 2011; and a spatially enabled raster dataset measuring the extent and depth of flood water in New Orleans as of September 5, 2005. For each dimension of the labor market outcomes measured in this study (employment status, occupational concentration, and job earnings), multilevel modeling is employed to examine the interaction between public housing developments and labor market processes in relation to racial inequalities.The results suggest that public housing and Section 8 voucher/Housing Choice Voucher units in the tract of residence are negative predictors for the likelihood of employment for African Americans and whites before Hurricane Katrina. Similarly for occupational concentration, before Katrina living near public housing was related to negative outcomes for both African Americans and whites in terms of occupational concentration. For job earnings, no significant relationships are found to exist between subsidized housing programs and job earnings before the storm.After Hurricane Katrina, the presence of public housing and Housing Choice Voucher units are no longer found to be significant predictors for employment. African Americans living near public housing are more likely to have lower job earnings compared to whites and those living further from these developments. Whites living in tracts with higher shares of Housing Choice Voucher units are more likely to have lower job earnings compared to African Americans, who are more likely to have higher earnings. In terms of employment likelihood, while public housing does not demonstrate a positive relationship with these outcomes after the storm, it is no longer associated with negative outcomes, which was the case before Katrina and the conversion to mixed-income developments began. Examining the likelihood for occupational concentration, the percentage of Housing Choice Vouchers units are found to be associated with negative outcomes for both African Americans and whites, so that with more voucher units in the tract of residence whites are less likely to be concentrated. This is a negative outcome based on the predominantly professional occupations whites are typically concentrated within, and African Americans are more likely to be concentrated in predominantly low-wage, low-skill industries. The presence of other subsidized housing programs is also associated with a greater likelihood for concentration for African Americans. Coupled with changing neighborhood dynamics related to residential segregation and employment decentralization, namely local industrial structure, racial and ethnic composition, and accessibility, these public housing results indicate a significant shift in New Orleans' neighborhood dynamics in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.Other characteristics at the neighborhood-level are significantly associated with differences in labor market outcomes between whites and African Americans as well. For instance, the amount of construction employment in a tract is associated with lower employment rates for African Americans and lower earnings for both African Americans and whites. Differential earnings levels based on the amount of construction employment is significant before and after Katrina. Earnings of whites are also negatively related to the size of the African American workforce pre-Katrina, although this relationship is not significant post-Katrina. Higher educational attainment of a tract's population leads to higher earnings for African Americans and whites post-Katrina. Racial and ethnic composition of neighborhoods also matters: pre-Katrina, higher shares of both African American and Hispanic populations lead to higher earnings for African Americans and whites, although these relationships are not present after the storm. The African American tract population also has a positive effect on African American occupational concentration (discouraging concentration), which is typically in the lower levels of the labor market hierarchy, both before and after Katrina. In terms of employment accessibility, pre-Katrina the share of a tract's population utilizing public transportation leads to lower job earnings for both African Americans and whites; there is no observed relationship between public transportation usage and the likelihood for employment or occupational concentration before or after the storm. There are several potential explanations for the neighborhood change suggested in this study's models following Katrina. Return rates to the region following the storm, a changing racial and ethnic population composition (namely an increase in the Latino population), differential physical neighborhood recovery rates, and public housing redevelopment to mixed-income neighborhoods are all offered as potential explanations for the changing dynamic of New Orleans' neighborhoods after Hurricane Katrina. This study will make significant theoretical and policy contributions. While few labor market studies have explicitly included public housing developments in their analyses, this study represents a unique contribution to understanding racial labor market inequality from a spatial perspective, with a particular focus on the interrelationship between public housing and labor market outcomes. Further, this study examines labor market inequality between white and African American residents in their residential neighborhoods, contributing to our understanding of the importance of local context in perpetuating racial inequality in urban labor market processes. Through the analyses of confidential census microdata, this study attempts to disentangle the role of public housing in local and metropolitan labor market processes by examining both individual- and neighborhood-level characteristics, an approach not widely adopted in existing studies due to data constraints. This study provides empirical analyses of labor market impacts from public housing and mixed-income developments. In particular, HUD has shifted its mixed-income redevelopment focus from HOPE VI to Choice Neighborhoods, which takes a community-encompassing approach to redevelopment. One facet of this expanded approach undoubtedly must focus on how mixed-income developments impact local labor markets. This study provides insights for scholars and policymakers alike to understand potential impacts of these neighborhoods on residents' economic upward mobility.