Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Bias is far more prevalent than justice.

People are weak, myopic, self-centered and, these days, more fearful.

Sometimes, though, it's painful to hear the mechanics of how bias operates.

David C. Phillips, an associate professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame, thought he'd look at how employers in Washington D.C. treat applicants for low-paying jobs.

His research, to be published in the Journal of Human Resources, offers a grim view of basic discrimination.

Some may find this all predictable. Understandable, even. 

Yet when Phillips explains that applicants from affluent and nearby areas get more callbacks than those from less affluent and less proximate areas, you begin to get a deflating feeling.

The most powerful factor by far, though, was how far you live from the job.

For jobs that only require a high school diploma, those who live further away get 14 percent fewer callbacks than those who live closer. Even if their resume is identical to the more proximate candidate.

This was a significant undertaking. Phillips sent out 2,260 fictional resumes to 565 job ads between May and August of 2014. 

Typically, his fictional applicants were 41 years old, had diplomas from good high schools and had worked for 8 years.

He gave his fictitious applicants all sorts of names. 

Those to whom he gave what he calls "stereotypically black names" were 6 percent less likely to get a callback.

However, when he factored in the information that black candidates tend to live on average 0.9 miles further away from jobs than did white applicants, he found the distance increased "the gap in callback rates between black and white applicants by 17 percent beyond the direct response to different names."

Phillips believes his results can be extrapolated nationwide.

He writes: 

If employers respond to commute distance in D.C., then they likely would in other cities with greater sprawl and poor public transportation. 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.

Perhaps it's that employers think those who live further away will more often be late and will be more tired and therefore less productive. 

Or perhaps it's more that when they look at an address, they immediately have a picture of the "sort" of person who lives there.

Phillips, though, believes that distance from the place of work has a greater affect on hiring managers' bias than perceived affluence.

There's always some sort of bias, of course. 

Phillips, though, believes public policy needs to address what he sees as a clear problem.

And you thought employers only looked for the best candidates.

Of course you did.

Published on: Aug 22, 2018
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