Declining Employment Among Young Black Less-Educated Men: The Role of Incarceration and Child Support

by Elaine Sorensen; Harry J. Holzer; Paul Offner

Apr 1, 2004

From 1980 to 2000, incarceration levels and enforcement of child support policies – both of which disproportionately affect young, poorly educated African American men – increased significantly. The authors performed a quantitative study using state-level data to test the effects of these factors on employment and labor force participation. Indeed, incarceration and child support policies contributed to declining employment among this demographic.
  • Employment rates for young, poorly educated African-American women increased dramatically in the 1990's, while the figures for their male counterparts continued to decline.
  • The three percent increase in incarceration in the two decades had the effect of decreasing employment of young black men by two to four percentage points.
  • The effect of increased enforcement of child support was about a four percent rise in labor force activity among black men from ages 25-34.
  • States should make an effort to reduce barriers to employment faced by former prisoners; this could include lightening restrictions on the formal employment of inmates.
  • States should develop child support orders that take low incomes into account, perhaps by being more open to arrearage forgiveness in certain cases.