The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor is the principal Federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy.
Employment barriers within low- and moderate-
Lisa N. Huynh
Although the U.S. labor market has shown strong growth in recent years, low- and moderate-income (LMI)
communities have not always experienced the benefits. The median incomes within LMI tracts are less than 80
percent of the overall median income in a particular area. Residents of poorer communities often lack the
necessary resources, opportunities, and capabilities to find and maintain jobs with decent pay, so they are less
likely to work than people living in higher income communities.
In “Why aren’t more people working in low- and moderate-income areas?” (Economic Review, Federal Reserve
Bank of Kansas City, fourth quarter 2019), economist Kelly D. Edmiston examines prominent barriers to
employment within LMI communities. The article is divided into three sections: The first section explains the
difference in employment-to-population ratios within LMI and non-LMI communities. (The employment-to-
population ratio is the share of a given population that is employed.) The second section reviews the survey
responses that identify the obstacles to working within LMI communities. The third section compares the findings
to explain why employment-to-population ratios differ between LMI communities and non-LMI communities.
The tract-level data used in this article come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).
The “communities” are defined as census tracts using residence-based employment measures. When the
employment-to-population ratio from the 2017 ACS is compared, the ratio for non-LMI tracts was 75.1, whereas
the ratio for LMI communities was 65.0. In this article, Edmiston looks at the ratio for the working-age population
(18 to 64 years) and excludes individuals who are weakly attached to the labor force (e.g., retirees and full-time
To analyze why the employment-to-population ratios vary between the two communities, Edmiston uses the
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s LMI Survey