Compounded Disadvantage: Race, Incarceration, and Wage Growth

October 2008

Christopher J. Lyons, University of New Mexico; Becky Pettit, University of Washington

Download 'working_paper08-16.pdf'.


Abstract

Spending time in prison has become an increasingly common life event for low-skill minority men in the U.S. The Bureau of Justice Statistics now estimates that one in three Black men can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. A growing body of work implicates the prison system in contemporary accounts of racial inequality across a host of social, health, economic, and political domains. However, comparatively little work has examined the impact of the massive increase in the prison system and growing inequality in exposure to the prison system on racial inequality over the life course. Using a unique data set drawn from state administrative records, this project examines how spending time in prison affects wage trajectories for a cohort of men over a 14-year period. Multilevel growth curve models show that black inmates earn considerably less than white inmates, even after considering human capital variables and prior work histories. Furthermore, racial divergence in wages among inmates increases following release from prison. Black felons receive fewer returns to previous work experience than white felons contributing to a widening of the racial wage gap. This research broadens our understanding of the sources of racial stratification over the life course and underscores the relevance of recent policy interventions in the lives of low-skilled minority men.



Keywords:
Crime, Incarceration, and the Labor Market, Employment, Unemployment, and the Labor Market, Race and Ethnicity