Compounded Disadvantage: Race, Incarceration, and Wage Growth

by Becky Pettit; Christopher J. Lyons

Oct 1, 2008

Based on 14-year panel data on ex-prisoners, this paper reports the impact of incarceration on future job prospects. Black men, in addition to facing greater risk of ending up in prison, are more negatively affected by imprisonment than white men. The expansion of the U.S. criminal justice system is therefore responsible for compounding the disadvantages of African Americans.
  • Black wages increase at a slower rate than white wages after release from prison.
  • The difference in wage trajectories is not completely accounted for by prior work experience.
  • African Americans receive lower returns to work experience than whites.
  • Because imprisonment confirms criminal stereotypes about black men, employers may be more likely to not hire a black man because of his criminal record than to not hire a white man because of his criminal record.