Unequal opportunity

Dallas suffers from bad case of ‘job sprawl,’ according to new research

Dallas suffers from bad case of ‘job sprawl,’ says new research

Dallas skyline
Jobs in the Dallas suburbs can be out of reach for those who live in the heart of the city. TREC Dallas/Facebook

Dallas has a serious case of “job sprawl,” according to new research highlighted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The research, promoted in a March 4 article on the Census Bureau’s website, shows that while many of the region’s jobs have been created in suburbs north of Dallas, a lot of low-income residents can’t easily take advantage of those opportunities because they live too far south of those employers.

“Job sprawl to the suburbs has created a commuting challenge that hits low-income residents the hardest,” the Census Bureau says. “Many may not be able to afford a car and if access to public transportation is limited, those living in cities cannot take advantage of job opportunities in suburbs miles away.”

According to the bureau, economists refer to this gap between where jobs are and where people live as “spatial mismatch,” which can trigger high unemployment and long spells of joblessness for low-income people. The research indicates this mismatch is prevalent in the Dallas area. 

The study referenced by the Census Bureau was published in June 2019 by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. In the study, researchers mapped out disparities from 2002 to 2015 between the locations of jobs and low-income residents in the Dallas area.

Considerable growth in low-wage jobs has occurred roughly 25 miles north of downtown Dallas, the study says. It notes the presence in suburbs north of Dallas, including Frisco and Plano, where employers have expanded or relocated in recent years. These include KFC, GEICO, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Pizza Hut, Samsung, Raytheon, and Toyota. 

Yet many low-income people who could benefit from those jobs live in subsidized housing clustered in and around South Dallas, according to the study. Those jobs often are out of reach for those residents because they don’t own cars, don’t have sufficient access to public transportation, or can’t afford roadway tolls, the study says.

In peak traffic, it can take an average of 45 minutes by car or two hours by public transit for commuters traveling south to north, or vice versa, according to the study. Even if a worker has a car, driving might be too costly. The main route between north and south is the Dallas North Tollway, where yearly tolls are estimated at $175 to $3,289, according to the study.

Meanwhile, the study notes, the job-saturated suburbs north of Dallas lack adequate public transit.

“Policymakers should consider policies that reduce spatial inequality and spatial mismatch between available jobs and low-income families. Distributing subsidized housing evenly throughout the region and expanding public transit that connects activity centers and low-income neighborhoods are key steps toward achieving this goal,” the study says.

Residents potentially could relocate to residential areas closer to suburban jobs north of Dallas, but the study points out that surrounding houses and apartments aren’t affordable for typical low-income households.

In Collin County, the median sale price for a home stood at $335,000 this January, according to the Colin County Association of Realtors. By comparison, the median price of a home in Dallas County was $240,000, the MetroTexas Association of Realtors says.

In the apartment market, the average rent in Plano is $1,349, versus $1,244 in Dallas, according to rental platform RentCafé.

“As new job opportunities are moving to the suburbs, it’s important and critical that workplaces are accessible for employees, especially low-income workers who don’t own a car,” Reza Sardari, who led the study, said during an April 2019 webinar hosted by the Census Bureau.

Sardari, who earned a doctoral degree in urban studies and urban affairs from the University of Texas at Arlington, is a traffic and revenue analyst for Austin-based Cintra, a transportation infrastructure company. He’s a specialist in geographic information systems (GIS).

Kelle Marsalis, president and CEO of the Plano Chamber of Commerce, says her organization supports ongoing efforts aimed at boosting access to jobs for people living throughout North Texas, such as improvement of housing availability and development of DART’s 26-mile Silver Line regional rail service.

“As a thriving business community that continues to see an expansion in economic development and job growth, it is imperative that Plano continues to improve on its ability to provide attainable housing for our workforce and innovative solutions to transportation,” Marsalis tells CultureMap. “Our companies, big and small, locate in Plano for a variety of reasons, but having access to talent is certainly at the top of the list.”