Bos­ton

Although Ama­zon’s same-day ser­vice is avail­able to most ad­dresses in Bos­ton and reaches al­most to New Hamp­shire, the cen­trally lo­cated neigh­bor­hood of Roxbury, with a pop­u­la­tion that’s about 59 per­cent black and 15 per­cent white, is ex­cluded. The pre­domin

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Focus / Small Business -

In same- day cities Ama­zon hasn’t yet sur- rounded with ware­houses, the com­pany must de­cide which neigh­bor­hoods are worth the cost of ser­vice and which aren’t. That’s where things get com­pli­cated.

Some ex­cluded ZIP codes cor­re­spond with higher crime rates. Ama­zon won’t say whether con­cerns about stolen pack­ages or the safety of driv­ers fig­ure into its de­ci­sions about where to de­liver, say­ing only “the safety of our em­ploy­ees is a top pri­or­ity.”

In­come inequal­ity may also play a part. Many ex­cluded ar­eas have av­er­age house­hold in­comes be­low the na­tional av­er­age. And house­holds with Prime mem­ber­ships skew wealth­ier—not sur­pris­ing given the $99 mem­ber­ship fee. An April study of fam­i­lies with teenagers by in­vest­ment bank Piper Jaf­fray es­ti­mates 70 per­cent of such U. S. house­holds with in­comes of $112,000 per year or more now have a Prime mem­ber­ship, com­pared with 43 per­cent for house­holds with in­comes of $21,000 to $41,000.

In­come dif­fer­ences alone don’t ex­plain the gaps in ser­vice, how­ever. In Chicago, New York, Bos­ton, At­lanta, and other cities, some ar­eas that are ex­cluded have house­hold in­comes as high or higher than ZIP codes Ama­zon does cover.

Ber­man points to cities where some black ZIP codes get same-day ser­vice and some white ones don’t. In Los An­ge­les, black and His­panic com­mu­ni­ties south of down­town have same-day ser­vice, but mostly white Mal­ibu, on the far side of the traf­fic-clogged Route 27 and Pa­cific Coast High­way, doesn’t. Over­all, though, in cities where same­day ser­vice doesn’t ex­tend to most res­i­dents, those left out are dis­pro­por­tion­ately black. (In the six cities with dis­par­i­ties, Asians, on av­er­age, are as likely as whites to live in an area with cov­er­age; His­pan­ics are less likely than whites to live in same-day ZIP codes, but more likely than blacks.)

“As soon as you try to rep­re­sent some­thing as com­plex as a neigh­bor­hood with a spread­sheet based on a few vari­ables, you’ve made some gen­er­al­iza­tions and as­sump­tions that may not be true, and they may not af­fect all peo­ple equally,” says Sorelle Friedler, a com­puter sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Haver­ford Col­lege who stud­ies data bias. “There is so much sys­temic bias with re­spect to race. If you aren’t pur­pose­fully try­ing to

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