Employment Discontinuities and Wage Declines: Race Differences in the Cumulative Effects of Incarceration

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

A growing body of work implicates the prison system in contemporary accounts of racial inequality across a host of social, economic, and political domains. However, comparatively little work has examined the impact of incarceration on racial inequality over the life course. Using a unique data set drawn from state administrative records, this study examines how spending time in prison affects accumulated work experience and wage trajectories over a 14-year period in Washington State. We explore how racial differences in both the likelihood of imprisonment and the effects of spending time in prison inform our understanding of widening racial inequality in employment, earnings, and exposure to poverty through adulthood. Our data enable us to isolate the impact of spending time in prison while controlling for other relevant determinants of labor market outcomes, including educational attainment, GED test scores, previous work history, conditions of confinement, and prior criminal history.

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Presented in Session 109: The Demography of Crime and Punishment