Study Finds No Link Between Better Job Proximity and Earnings Among Housing Choice Voucher Households

A paper published in Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, “Does Jobs Proximity Matter in the Housing Choice Voucher Program?,” found no evidence that Housing Choice Voucher households in the labor force are more likely than those not in the labor force to locate closer to jobs. In addition, the authors found no link between job proximity and greater earned incomes. These findings suggest that job proximity may not generate the labor market advantages that policymakers often emphasize and is not as important as other measures of neighborhood opportunity.

To calculate a job-proximity index, the authors used the Census Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) database, which includes data on jobs and workers per Census block group. Job-proximity scores were determined by the number of jobs listed in the immediate area and the number of nearby workers competing for such jobs. The authors looked exclusively at jobs currently held by people with educational attainment lower than a bachelor’s degree in order to identify the relatively low-skilled jobs that voucher holders are more likely to hold. The authors linked this measure to HUD’s longitudinal, household-level data on voucher households, including employment and earnings, the presence of children, race, gender, and disability status. From these data, they estimated that 1.2 million voucher households were “work-able,” meaning they included at least one member between 18 and 65 years old who is not disabled or a full-time student. The focus of their analysis was on the income and location of these work-able households between 2009 and 2014.

The authors report that changes in earned income and changes in proximity to jobs moved in opposite directions for work-able households. Between 2009 and 2011, earned income for these households fell while their job proximity increased, whereas between 2011 and 2014, earned income increased while job proximity fell. Although the earned income of work-able households was consistently much higher than earned income for all households, their job proximity scores were “virtually identical.”

The authors also looked at within-household changes in earned income and job proximity for work-able households that moved in the past year. The mobility rate within the last year was higher among work-able households, with about 16.7% moving between block groups compared to 11.3% of non-working households. Both households that moved and households that did not move saw similar increases in earned income: the average household saw an annual increase in inflation-adjusted earned income of roughly $140. Perhaps surprisingly, the authors found that work-able households were more likely to make moves that lowered their proximity to jobs.

Correlation models indicated that jobs proximity does not seem to matter much for initial levels of earned income or changes in earned income, for either the full sample of working households or just those who moved in the past year. Many households experienced increases in earned income, but these increases were not connected to increased job proximity. The authors infer that proximity to job centers is not a high priority when voucher households in the workforce consider where to locate.

The authors take these findings to suggest that concerns about job proximity might carry too much weight in policy and research on neighborhood opportunity. This conclusion is subject to several qualifications. They note that this study does not control for access to a car or other transportation, which may explain willingness to move to areas with lower job proximity. They argue that households often make housing decisions for a variety of reasons other than job proximity, such as the quality of nearby schools, crime rates, and the character of the neighborhood. Minority and voucher households also face barriers to residential mobility, such as landlord discrimination, that further complicate residential choices.

The paper is at: