Racial Disparities in Pollution Exposure and Employment at U.S. Industrial Facilities

Proximity to industrial facilities can have positive employment effects as well as negative pollution exposure impacts on surrounding communities. PERI economists Michael Ash and James Boyce use facility-level data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to assess the extent to which the racial and ethnic distribution of industrial employment corresponds to the distribution of exposure to air toxics emitted by the same facilities. They find that the share of pollution risk accruing to minority groups generally exceeds their share of employment and exceeds their share of higher paying jobs by a wide margin.

Published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Abstract

Proximity to industrial facilities can have positive employment effects as well as negative pollution exposure impacts on surrounding communities. Although racial disparities in exposure to industrial air pollution in the United States are well documented, there has been little empirical investigation of whether these disparities are mirrored by employment benefits. We use facility-level data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEO-1 database to assess the extent to which the racial and ethnic distribution of industrial employment corresponds to the distribution of exposure to air toxics emitted by the same facilities. The share of pollution risk accruing to minority groups generally exceeds their share of employment and exceeds their share of higher paying jobs by a wide margin. We find no evidence that facilities that create higher pollution risk for surrounding communities provide more jobs in aggregate.

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