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Journal Article

Compounded Disadvantage: Race, Incarceration, and Wage Growth

Christopher J. Lyons and Becky Pettit
Social Problems
Vol. 58, No. 2 (May 2011), pp. 257-280
DOI: 10.1525/sp.2011.58.2.257
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Page Count: 24
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Compounded Disadvantage: Race, Incarceration, and Wage Growth
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Spending time in prison has become an increasingly common life event for low-skill minority men in the United States. 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 no evidence of racial divergence in wages in quarters leading up to incarceration. However, after release, wages grow at a 21 percent slower rate for black compared to white ex-inmates. Blacks also enjoy fewer wage returns to work history compared to their white counterparts. 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.

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