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Spring 1999

Young Guns
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Michael Stoll
Assistant Professor of Policy Studies
School of Public Policy and Social Research

Ask the person on the street why the urban poor can't get jobs and you'll get a range of guesses and opinions: laziness, drugs, lack of education.

Ask 33-year-old policy studies maven Michael Stoll and you'll hear about such things as "spatial mismatch."

Stoll's National Science Foundation-funded groundbreaking study, Race, Urban Inequality and Economic Opportunity, postulates geography, as opposed to personal shortcomings, as the chief barrier to employment. Thus, spatial mismatch: low-skill workers living in the inner city, with low-skill jobs -- and information about their availability -- located predominately in the suburbs. Transportation between the two places is routinely difficult and expensive. And making matters worse, according to Stoll, data indicates that discrimination, particularly against African Americans, is greater in the suburbs.

Stoll's research, in many ways, is a natural outgrowth of his own life. He witnessed many of these same problems firsthand as a kid growing up in Los Angeles' lower-middle-class Crenshaw District.

"I was a kid interested in fairness, and I saw the problems on the side of town where my family lived were different from the Westside," recalls Stoll. "I knew that. But it wasn't something I could process intellectually."

That would be some years away. Stoll, an admitted "sports nut" in high school, didn't plan to go to college, let alone study urban employment. He had his sights on becoming a pro basketball player. That dream went bust. He was lined up for a course in welding when a friend of his father's nudged him into higher education. After undergraduate work at Cal State Northridge and UC Berkeley, Stoll earned his master's and Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was awarded several pre- and postdoctoral fellowships.

Today, Stoll still has his old neighborhood in mind as he looks for solutions for urban poverty. His study, testing his theories of spatial mismatch and examining which factors most affect job-seekers, will have direct implications for a number of federally sponsored initiatives to reduce unemployment. Notes Stoll: "I have a strong desire for people to have some chance at opportunities in life. That still drives me."

-- C.L.

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