Live in the Suburbs? Geographic Bias Might Keep You From Getting Hired

long commute
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That long commute might be having an impact on more than just your beauty sleep. According to a recent study, it might keep you from landing a new job.

The study was published in the Journal of Human Resources in August 2018. Researchers lead by David Phillips, an associate professor of economics at Notre Dame, sent out 2,260 resumes from fictional applicants to low-wage jobs in the Washington, D.C. area during the summer of 2014.

The research found evidence of bias against those that live further away from a job location. So, for example, applicants with a suburban address might have trouble landing a job in their city center.

At Harvard Business Review, Phillips explains:

My results show that applicants living in distant neighborhoods received positive responses from employers less frequently than those living near the workplace. In fact, applicants who lived 5-6 miles farther from the job received about one-third fewer callbacks.

Why Long Commutes Matter

This type of bias may help perpetuate lack of diversity in the workforce. Per Phillips:

In D.C., census data shows that a black person lives, on average, one mile farther from low-wage jobs than a white person. In many cities, urban revitalization has also led to increased rents, gentrification, and movement of low-income, minority groups away from jobs. So, when a low-wage employer avoids an employee due to their commute, that penalty disproportionately affects groups facing other disadvantages. A person could move to a distant, low-rent neighborhood because they face a temporary economic difficulty and then become trapped by their address. Explicit bias does not need to be present to reinforce inequity.

How to Fix the Problem

Employers and hiring managers can make a few simple changes to ensure that the best person gets the job. (And not just the candidate with the closest address.)

  • Strip addresses and names from resumes. This also eliminates bias based on perceived gender, ethnicity or race.
  • Promote ride-share or dedicated shuttle programs. Phillips points out that Silicon Valley employers know that it can be hard to afford to live close to where tech employees work. They have made busing in employees a priority, to ensure that even their entry-level staff can reap the benefits of a job at their company.
  • Allow employees to work remotely. Even a partial remote position relieves the burden of a multi-hour commute each day. Allowing employees to telecommute can make many office jobs more accessible to candidates who live farther away.

Not in a position to change company policy just yet? You can help yourself out by taking your street address off your resume. If you want to show that you’re local, include the city and state. That should be enough to get your foot in the door … and not enough to trigger any unconscious bias in the hiring manager.

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How has your commute affected your job search? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.