Skip navigation

Western and Pettit Incarcerations Effect on Economic Mobility 2010

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
COLLATERAL COSTS:
I N C A R C E R AT I O N ’ S E F F E C T O N
ECONOMIC MOBILITY

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This report is based on research by Dr. Bruce Western and Dr. Becky Pettit and was jointly authored by
the Economic Mobility Project and the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Bruce Western is a professor of sociology and director of the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and
Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. His work focuses on the link between social inequality and the
growth of the prison and jail population in the United States. Western holds a B.A. in government from the
University of Queensland, Australia, and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Becky Pettit is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington. Her work investigates the
role of institutions in differential labor market opportunities and aggregate patterns of inequality. Pettit holds a
B.A. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Princeton University.

The Economic Mobility Project
is a nonpartisan collaborative effort that seeks
to focus attention and debate on the question
of economic mobility and the health of the
American Dream.
Doug Hamilton, Deputy Director
Erin Currier, Project Manager
Samantha Lasky, Communications Officer
Scott Winship, Ph.D., Research Manager
Colleen Allen, Specialist
Kari Miller, Administrative Assistant

The Public Safety Performance Project
helps states advance fiscally sound,
data-driven policies and practices in sentencing
and corrections that protect public safety,
hold offenders accountable, and control
corrections costs.
Adam Gelb, Director
Jake Horowitz, Project Manager
Richard Jerome, Project Manager
Ryan King, Project Manager, Research
Jennifer Laudano, Project Manager, Communications
Brian Elderbroom, Senior Associate
Jason Newman, Senior Associate
Rolanda Rascoe, Senior Associate, Communications
Joe Gavrilovich, Associate
Corinne Mills, Administrative Assistant

We would like to thank consultants Jenifer Warren, writer; Ellen Wert, editor; and Carole Goodman
of Do Good Design, report designer. We also thank our colleagues, Sue Urahn, managing director,
Pew Center on the States; the communications team (Gaye Williams, deputy director; Andrew McDonald,
senior officer; Peter Janhunen, senior officer); the publications team (Carla Uriona, manager; Evan Potler,
senior associate); and the quality control team (Nancy Augustine, manager; Kil Huh, director; Denise Wilson,
associate; Sara Dube, senior associate; Elaine Weiss, manager; Jane Breakell, associate; Jill Antonishak, manager;
Christine Vestal, manager; Lisa Cutler, deputy director, communications). Finally, we thank all of those who read
and provided valuable feedback on the report: John Morton, Bhashkar Mazumder, Harry Holzer, Marv Kosters,
Ronald Mincy, Ken Land, Samuel Preston, Steven Raphael and Ianna Kachoris.
For more information, please visit www.economicmobility.org and www.pewpublicsafety.org.
Suggested Citation: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010. Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic
Mobility. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.
©2010 The Pew Charitable Trusts

TA B L E O F CO N T E N T S

2

TO THE READER: WHY INCARCERATION AND ECONOMIC MOBILITY?

3

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

6

THE GROWTH, SCALE AND CONCENTRATION OF INCARCERATION
IN AMERICA
6 Male Incarceration Rates by Age, Race and Education

9

THE IMPACT OF INCARCERATION ON EMPLOYMENT, WAGES AND
ECONOMIC MOBILITY
10 Sidebar: Is it Incarceration or Arrest and Conviction?
11 Incarceration and Work
12 Incarceration and Lost Earnings
13 Sidebar: The Hidden Labor Market
16 Incarceration and Economic Mobility

18

THE INTERGENERATIONAL IMPACT OF INCARCERATION
Children with Incarcerated Parents
The Impact of Parental Incarceration
Sidebar: Why Parents Are Incarcerated

18
18
20
22

PROMOTING ECONOMIC MOBILITY
From Prison to Work
Containing the Corrections Population

22
24
26
28

CONCLUSION
APPENDIX
Methodology
Incarceration Rates
Children of Incarcerated Parents
Employment-to-Population Rates With/Without Inmates

28
30
32
34
36

NOTES

39

RESOURCES

TO THE READER:

WHY INCARCERATION AND ECONOMIC MOBILITY?
Over the past 30 years, the United States has experienced explosive growth in its
incarcerated population. The Pew Center on the States reported in 2008 that more
than 1 in 100 adults is now behind bars in America, by far the highest rate of any
nation.1 The direct cost of this imprisonment boom, in dollars, has been staggering:
state correctional costs quadrupled over the past two decades and now top $50 billion
a year, consuming 1 in every 15 general fund dollars.2
Looking at the same period of time, Pew’s Economic Mobility Project’s research has
revealed a decidedly mixed picture of economic mobility in America. On the one hand,
two-thirds of families have higher inflation-adjusted incomes than their parents did
at a similar age.3 Given these favorable odds for each generation to earn a better living
than the last, it is no wonder that, even in the depths of the country’s economic slump
last year, 8 out of 10 Americans believed it was still possible to “get ahead.”4
Less encouraging, however, are the findings that describe how individuals’ economic
rank compares to their parents’ rank at the same age, as well as data showing that
race and parental income significantly impact economic mobility. For example, 42
percent of Americans whose parents were in the bottom fifth of the income ladder
remain there themselves as adults.5 As for race, blacks are significantly more
downwardly mobile than whites: almost half of black children born to solidly middleincome parents tumble to the bottom of the income distribution in adulthood, while
just 16 percent of whites experience such a fall.6
With this report, our inquiry focuses on the intersection of incarceration and mobility,
fields that might at first seem unrelated. We ask two questions: To what extent does
incarceration create lasting barriers to economic progress for formerly incarcerated
people, their families and their children? What do these barriers mean for the
American Dream, given the explosive growth of the prison population?
The findings in this report should give policy makers reason to reflect. The price of
prisons in state and federal budgets represents just a fraction of the overall cost
of incarcerating such a large segment of our society. The collateral consequences are
tremendous and far-reaching, and as this report illuminates with fresh data
and analysis, they include substantial and lifelong damage to the ability of former
inmates, their families and their children to earn a living wage, move up the
income ladder and pursue the American Dream.

Doug Hamilton
Deputy Director,
Pew Economic Policy Group

2

Susan K. Urahn
Managing Director,
Pew Center on the States

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

COLLATERAL COSTS:
I N C A R C E R AT I O N ’ S E F F E C T O N
ECONOMIC MOBILITY
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Currently 2.3 million Americans are behind bars, equaling more than 1 in 100 adults.
Up from just 500,000 in 1980, this marks more than a 300 percent increase in the
United States’ incarcerated population and represents the highest rate of incarceration
in the world.
Over the last four years, The Pew Charitable Trusts has documented the enormous expense
of building prisons and housing inmates that is borne by states and the federal
government. Indeed, in the face of gaping budget shortfalls, more than half of the states are
now seeking alternative sentencing and corrections strategies that cost less than prison, but
can protect public safety and hold offenders accountable. A less explored fiscal implication
of incarceration is its impact on former inmates’ economic opportunity and mobility.
Economic mobility, the ability of individuals and families to move up the income ladder
over their lifetime and across generations, is the epitome of the American Dream.
Americans believe that economic success is determined by individual efforts and
attributes, like hard work and ambition, and that anyone should be able to improve his or
her economic circumstances.
Incarceration affects an inmate’s path to prosperity. Collateral Costs quantifies the size of
that effect, not only on offenders but on their families and children. Before being
incarcerated more than two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half
were the primary source of financial support for their children.7 Incarceration carries
significant and enduring economic repercussions for the remainder of the person’s working
years. This report finds that former inmates work fewer weeks each year, earn less money
and have limited upward mobility. These costs are borne by offenders’ families and
communities, and they reverberate across generations.
People who break the law need to be held accountable and pay their debt to society.
Prisons can enhance public safety, both by keeping dangerous criminals off the streets and
by deterring would be offenders. However, virtually all inmates will be released, and when
they do, society has a strong interest in helping them fulfill their responsibilities to their
victims, their families and their communities. When returning offenders can find and keep
legitimate employment, they are more likely to be able to pay restitution to their victims,
support their children and avoid crime.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

3

To calculate the impacts of incarceration on economic mobility, The Pew Charitable Trusts
commissioned new analysis by two of the leading researchers in the field, Dr. Bruce
Western of Harvard University and Dr. Becky Pettit of the University of Washington.
Major findings include the following:

INCARCERATION IS CONCENTRATED AMONG MEN, THE YOUNG, THE
UNEDUCATED AND RACIAL AND ETHNIC MINORITIES—ESPECIALLY
AFRICAN AMERICANS.
•

One in 87 working-aged white men is in prison or jail, compared with 1 in 36
Hispanic men and 1 in 12 African American men.

•

More young (20 to 34-year-old) African American men without a high school
diploma or GED are currently behind bars (37 percent) than employed (26
percent).

INCARCERATION NEGATIVELY AFFECTS FORMER INMATES’
ECONOMIC PROSPECTS.
•

Serving time reduces hourly wages for men by approximately 11 percent, annual
employment by 9 weeks and annual earnings by 40 percent.

•

By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had
never been incarcerated.

•

Incarceration depresses the total earnings of white males by 2 percent, of Hispanic
males by 6 percent, and of black males by 9 percent.

FORMER INMATES EXPERIENCE LESS UPWARD ECONOMIC
MOBILITY THAN THOSE WHO ARE NEVER INCARCERATED.
•

Of the former inmates who were in the lowest fifth of the male earnings distribution
in 1986, two-thirds remained on the bottom rung in 2006, twice the number of
those who were not incarcerated.

•

Only 2 percent of previously incarcerated men who started in the bottom fifth of the
earnings distribution made it to the top fifth 20 years later, compared to 15 percent
of men who started at the bottom but were never incarcerated.

THE IMPACTS OF INCARCERATION REACH FAR BEYOND FORMER
INMATES TO THEIR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES.

4

•

54 percent of inmates are parents with minor children (ages 0-17), including more
than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers.

•

2.7 million children have a parent behind bars — 1 in every 28 children (3.6 percent)
has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these
children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

•

One in 9 African American children (11.4 percent), 1 in 28 Hispanic children (3.5 percent)
and 1 in 57 white children (1.8 percent) have an incarcerated parent.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

A CHILD’S PROSPECT OF UPWARD ECONOMIC MOBILITY IS
NEGATIVELY AFFECTED BY THE INCARCERATION OF A PARENT.
•

Previous research has shown that having a parent incarcerated hurts children, both
educationally and financially.

•

Children with fathers who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely
than other children to be expelled or suspended from school (23 percent compared
with 4 percent).8

•

Family income averaged over the years a father is incarcerated is 22 percent lower
than family income was the year before a father is incarcerated. Even in the year
after the father is released, family income remains 15 percent lower than it was the
year before incarceration.9

•

Both education and parental income are strong indicators of children’s future
economic mobility.10

With millions of prison and jail inmates a year returning to their communities, it is
important to identify policies that address the impact of incarceration on the economic
mobility of former inmates and their children. Based on information previously put
forward by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project and Pew’s
Economic Mobility Project, this report outlines ways to reduce the productivity losses
associated with serving time in jail or prison. These recommendations include the following:
•

Proactively reconnect former inmates to the labor market through education
and training, job search and placement support and follow-up services to help
former inmates stay employed.

•

Enhance former inmates’ economic condition and make work pay by capping
the percent of an offenders’ income subject to deductions for unpaid debts (such as
court-ordered fines and fees), and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to
include non-custodial, low-income parents.

•

Screen and sort people convicted of crimes by the risks they pose to society,
diverting lower-risk offenders into high-quality, community-based mandatory
supervision programs.

•

Use earned-time credits, a proven model that offers selected inmates a shortened
prison stay if they complete educational, vocational or rehabilitation programs that
boost their chances of successful reentry into the community and the labor market.

•

Provide funding incentives to corrections agencies and programs that succeed in
reducing crime and increasing employment.

•

Use swift and certain sanctions other than prison, such as short but immediate
weekend jail stays, to punish probation and parole violations, holding offenders
accountable while allowing them to keep their jobs.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

5

THE GROWTH, SCALE AND CONCENTRATION
OF INCARCERATION IN AMERICA
The United States maintains the largest incarcerated population and the highest
incarceration rate of any nation in the world.11 After three decades of growth, the nation’s
vast network of prisons and jails now holds more than 2.3 million inmates, meaning that
more than 1 in 100 adults is currently behind bars.12 In 1980, there were half a million
people locked up in the United States. That number more than doubled by 1990 and grew
by another 75 percent the following decade.13 In 2008, the number of inmates in America
was slightly larger than the populations of Atlanta, Boston, Kansas City (Missouri) and
Seattle combined. Figure 1 details the United States’ scale and rate of incarceration
compared with those of other countries.
The United States’ prison population did not balloon by accident, nor was its expansion
driven principally by surging crime rates or demographic dynamics beyond the control of
state leaders. Rather, the growth flowed primarily from changes in sentencing laws, inmate
release decisions, community supervision practices and other correctional policies that
determine who goes to prison and for how long.14 And while expanded incarceration
contributed to the drop in violent crime in the United States during the 1990s, research
shows that having more prisoners accounted for only about 25 percent of the reduction,
leaving the other 75 percent to be explained by better policing and a variety of other, less
expensive factors.15

MALE INCARCERATION RATES BY AGE, RACE AND EDUCATION
Incarceration has become a prominent American institution with substantial collateral
consequences for families and communities, particularly among the most disadvantaged.
Indeed, the headline about overall corrections numbers conceals more sobering details
related to race. Simply stated, incarceration in America is concentrated among African
American men. (See Figure 2.) While 1 in every 87 white males ages 18 to 64 is
incarcerated and the number for similarly-aged Hispanic males is 1 in 36, for black men
it is 1 in 12.16 Moreover, as detailed later in these pages, incarceration has implications for
individual employment earnings and long-term economic mobility that are collectively
amplified for minority communities, often already at a disadvantage in terms of broader
financial well-being.
Other disparities surface when education is considered. In particular, those without a high
school diploma or GED are far more likely to be locked up than others.17 While 1 in 57
white men ages 20 to 34 is incarcerated, the rate is 1 in 8 for white men of the same age
group who lack a high school diploma or GED.

6

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

FIGURE 1

THE UNITED STATES HOUSES MORE INMATES
THAN THE TOP 35 EUROPEAN COUNTRIES COMBINED
753

United States
609

Russia
483

Georgia
385

Belarus
319

Latvia

314

Ukraine
265

Estonia
240

Azerbaijan
Lithuania

230

Poland

224

Moldova
Spain
Turkey
Albania
Luxembourg
Hungary
Montenegro
United Kingdom
Slovakia
Serbia and Montenegro

209

INMATES PER 100,000 PEOPLE

Czech Republic

184
166
164
159

TOTAL INMATES

155
153

2,500,000

153
151
151

2,000,000

144

Malta

134

Romania

129

Bulgaria

124

Armenia

122

Greece

109

Macedonia

109

Portugal

108

Italy

107

Croatia

107

Netherlands

100

Austria

99

France

96

Belgium

94

Germany

88

Ireland

85

1,500,000

1,000,000

500,000

Inmate Population, Inmate Population,
United States
Top 35 European
Countries

Source: International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College, London, “World Prison Brief,”
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/worldbrief/wpb_stats.php. Data downloaded June 2010.
Note: Rates are for total number of residents, not just adults. Figures in this chart may not align with others due to counting methods.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

7

FIGURE 2

WORKING-AGE MEN BEHIND BARS
Rates of incarceration by race, age and education, 2008

White

Black

Hispanic

1.1%, or 1 in 87

8.0%, or 1 in 12

2.7%, or 1 in 36

1.8%, or 1 in 57

11.4%, or 1 in 9

3.7%, or 1 in 27

12.0%, or 1 in 8

37.1%, or 1 in 3

7.0%, or 1 in 14

18- to 64-year olds

20- to 34-year olds

20- to 34-year olds
without high school
diploma/GED

Note: These numbers differ from previous Pew reports primarily because they pertain to working-age men as opposed to all adults.
Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

Black men, in particular, face enormously dim prospects when they fail to complete high
school. More than one-third (37 percent) of black male dropouts between the ages of
20 and 34 are currently behind bars—three times the rate for whites in the same category.
(See Figure 3.) This exceeds the share of young black male dropouts who have a job
(26 percent).18 Thus, as adults in their twenties and early thirties, when they should be
launching careers, black men without a high school diploma are more likely to be found
in a cell than in the workplace.
The data about incarceration in America show that for many men growing up in the postcivil-rights era, prison looms as an increasingly predictable destination. That fact makes it critical
to explore how serving time may carry long-term economic disadvantages that translate into
downward mobility not only for the formerly incarcerated, but for their children as well.

8

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

FIGURE 3

INCARCERATION RATE RISING
More than one in three young, black men without a high school diploma
is currently behind bars

40%
35%

Percent Incarcerated

30%
25%
20%
15%
10%
5%

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2008

White men age 18–64

White male high school dropouts age 20–34

Black men age 18-64

Black male high school dropouts age 20–34

Hispanic men age 18-64

Hispanic male high school dropouts age 20–34

Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

THE IMPACT OF INCARCERATION ON EMPLOYMENT,
WAGES AND ECONOMIC MOBILITY
Americans believe strongly that individuals determine their own economic success
through hard work, ambition and other personal characteristics.19 Subject to reasonable
restrictions then, former inmates should be able to pay their debt to society, work hard and
chart a new and law-abiding course toward economic stability and even improvement.
This was a driving sentiment behind the passage of the Second Chance Act, a bipartisan
bill signed into law in 2008 by President George W. Bush. Unfortunately, the reality is
different. Incarceration casts a long-lasting shadow over former inmates, reducing their
ability to work their way up. The obstacles they face upon leaving prison compound the
wages and skills lost during the period of incarceration itself.
When inmates return home, they are suddenly confronted with all of the demands and
responsibilities of everyday life, as well as the repercussions of their prior choices. Any
professional work skills they had before may have eroded, and their social networks—the
family and friends who might help them in finding and securing jobs—may well be
frayed.20 On top of these challenges, many inmates emerge with substantial financial
obligations, including child support, restitution and other court-related fees.21

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

9

IS IT INCARCERATION OR ARREST AND CONVICTION?22
This report provides new analysis that documents costs of incarceration that extend well
beyond state budgets to the employment and earnings prospects of former inmates and
their families. Because incarceration typically is preceded by arrest and conviction, it is
important to establish whether incarceration—in itself—negatively affects economic
mobility above and beyond what would be expected in a case involving arrest, conviction
and a non-incarceration sentence.
In the absence of experimental conditions (which, in the context of crime and punishment,
are rare), it can be difficult to substantiate these points. Non-experimental research designs
require imperfect comparisons of former inmates with not-incarcerated individuals who
share as many other attributes as possible. While no such study can account for all possible
differences, several have tried to control for the most likely and important. Two studies offer
evidence that distinguishes the effects of incarceration from the effects of arrest and conviction.
• Freeman23 (1991) uses survey responses to identify the separate impacts of arrest,
conviction and incarceration, while controlling for demographic, educational, criminal
and other individual attributes. His analysis found substantial negative employment
effects attributable specifically to incarceration.
• Grogger24 (1995) also modeled the impact of arrest, conviction, jail and imprisonment
on earnings and found substantial negative consequences specific to incarceration.
While his findings for imprisonment may reflect lost earnings during the period of
incarceration, his findings for a jail effect persist for over a year, after the period in
which the incarceration would end.
While these and other studies25 have their own specific limitations, the preponderance of
evidence suggests that incarceration—above and beyond arrest and conviction—negatively
affects individual economic prospects.
There are several paths through which serving a term of incarceration may adversely affect
employment prospects:
• Inmates are necessarily withdrawn from society and have severely limited opportunity
to gain work experience while incarcerated.
• Inmates build relationships with a highly criminally active peer group, a factor that
may permanently alter their future work trajectory.
• Released inmates usually are placed on parole or some form of supervision, a status
that increases the likelihood of future incarceration spells since violations of
supervision rules are grounds for return to prison.
• Incarceration can generate child support arrearages for non-custodial fathers,
a factor that may decrease the incentive to work.

10

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

Tossed into a competitive labor market, former inmates are viewed suspiciously by many
prospective employers. They bear the indelible stigma of incarceration that ranks them low
on any list of job candidates, and face a number of laws barring them from working in
certain occupations.26 Finally, while some employers might be inclined to hire a former
inmate, many are dissuaded from doing so by potential legal and financial liabilities.27

INCARCERATION AND WORK
Former inmates experience relatively high levels of unemployment and below-average
earnings in large part because of their comparatively poor work history and low levels of
education.28 Incarceration further compounds these challenges.
When age, education, school enrollment, region of residence and urban
PAST INCARCERATION
residence are statistically accounted for, past incarceration reduced
REDUCED SUBSEQUENT WAGES
subsequent wages by 11 percent, cut annual employment by nine weeks
BY 11 PERCENT, CUT ANNUAL
and reduced yearly earnings by 40 percent.29 (See Figure 4.)
EMPLOYMENT BY NINE WEEKS
AND REDUCED YEARLY
EARNINGS BY 40 PERCENT.

Interestingly, when number of years of work experience also is
statistically controlled, the estimated effect of incarceration on all of
the above outcomes does not change much. This implies that incarceration’s effect on
economic outcomes has much more to do with having been convicted and imprisoned
than it does with the work experience lost while imprisoned. In other words, having
a history of incarceration itself impedes subsequent economic success.

FIGURE 4

INCARCERATION REDUCES EARNINGS POWER
Estimated effect of incarceration on male wages, weeks worked,
and annual earnings, predicted at age 45

48 weeks
$16.33/hr.
$14.57/hr.

39 weeks

$39,100

$23,500

If not
Postincarcerated Incarceration

If not
Postincarcerated Incarceration

If not
Postincarcerated Incarceration

WAGES

WEEKS WORKED

ANNUAL EARNINGS

Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

11

INCARCERATION AND LOST EARNINGS
The fact that former inmates make less per hour, work fewer weeks per year, and reap
lower annual earnings than their counterparts has implications for their earnings
trajectory. When the impact of incarceration on earnings is traced through the peak
earning years, the aggregate losses are sizable. On average, incarceration eliminates more
than half the earnings a white man would otherwise have made through age 48, and 41
and 44 percent of the earnings for Hispanic and black men, respectively. (See Table 1.)
That amounts to an expected earnings loss of nearly $179,000 just through age 48 for
people who have been incarcerated.30 Of note, these losses do not include earnings
forfeited during incarceration; they reflect instead a sizable lifelong earnings gap between
former inmates and those never incarcerated. Facing a competitive marketplace, carrying
the stigma of incarceration, and juggling the responsibility of ongoing
financial demands such as fees and restitution, many of the formerly
“THE ECONOMIC OUTPUT
incarcerated find the pursuit of legitimate economic solvency—let alone
OF PRISONERS IS MOSTLY
prosperity—difficult. These challenges impact not only former inmates
LOST TO SOCIETY WHILE
THEY ARE IMPRISONED.
themselves, but also their families and broader communities.
THESE NEGATIVE
PRODUCTIVITY EFFECTS
CONTINUE AFTER RELEASE.”

Another way to understand the lost earnings associated with
incarceration and its after-effects is to express it as a share of the aggregate
earnings of all men—incarcerated or not—through age 48, as shown by
Jim Webb
United States Senator
race in Table 1. The sum of the earnings lost by white men who have been
(D-VA)
incarcerated is equal to 2 percent of the total earnings that would
otherwise have been expected across all white men. Moreover, because Hispanic and black men
are more likely to serve a term of incarceration, their communities lose a larger share of overall
male earnings. The lost earnings associated with incarceration are equal to 6 percent of total
expected Hispanic male earnings and 9 percent of total expected black male earnings.

TABLE 1
AGGREGATE IMPACT OF INCARCERATION ON EARNINGS
White men

Hispanic men

Black men

Percent incarceration reduces former
inmates’ earnings

52%

41%

44%

Reduction in earnings as a percent
of all male earnings

2%

6%

9%

Note: Percentages reflect earnings loss through age 48.
Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

12

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

THE HIDDEN LABOR MARKET
The economic crisis turned all eyes toward the nation’s unemployment rate, which recently
crested above 10 percent—the highest level in a quarter century. Employment figures tell us
much about the financial health of the nation, and are critical for understanding who is moving
ahead and who is falling behind. However, conventional methods of assessing employment
exclude the men and women behind bars, resulting in an incomplete picture. Now, with
more than 2.3 million adults incarcerated, the effect of this omission has become too
substantial to ignore.
Conventional labor force surveys that omit inmates create an unrealistically rosy portrait
of the productive engagement of men, particularly younger minorities with limited

FIGURE 5

OMITTING INMATES DISTORTS EMPLOYMENT PICTURE
Young, black men without a high school diploma more likely to be incarcerated
than employed

70%
60%
50%
40%
30%
20%

2008

2006

2004

2002

2000

1998

1996

1994

1992

1990

1988

1986

1984

1982

1980

10%

BLACK MEN AGES 20-34
WITH LESS THAN A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA:
Employment-to-population rate (excluding inmates)
Employment-to-population rate (including inmates)
Incarceration rate
Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

13

FIGURE 6

OMITTING INMATES UNDERSTATES RACIAL EMPLOYMENT DISPARITIES
Incarceration disproportionately affects levels and trends of black employment

Employment-to-Population Rate (EPOP)

90%
80%
70%
60%
50%
40%
30%
20%

2008

2006

2004

2002

2000

1998

1996

1994

1992

1990

1988

1986

1984

1982

1980

10%

EPOP FOR MEN AGES 20-34 WITH LESS THAN
A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA:
White men, excluding inmates
White men, including inmates
Black men, excluding inmates
Black men, including inmates
Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

education. To understand why, imagine a survey of student health that omits all the pupils
who happen to be home sick that day. By ignoring the absent, ailing students, the survey
would produce a distorted representation of the student body, making it appear healthier
than it actually is.
A fundamental statistic for assessing labor market engagement and the economic health
of a group of people is the employment-to-population rate (EPOP): the share of people in any
group who are currently employed (100 percent would be full employment).
A comparison of EPOP rates with and without inmates included provides another way to
assess the scale of incarceration and a more complete portrait of economic health.31

14

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

For example, the EPOP for working age (18–64) black men falls by more than five points,
from 67 to 61 percent, when inmates are included. For black men 20 to 34 years old, the
EPOP falls by nearly eight points, from 66 to 58 percent. Add education levels to the mix and
the gap becomes more dramatic. For black men ages 20–34 without a high school diploma,
the EPOP plummets 16 percentage points, from 42 to 26 percent, when inmates are
included. That is, using an EPOP figure that excludes inmates creates the impression that
these men are 4.5 percentage points more likely to be employed than incarcerated. In fact,
younger, less educated black men are 11 percentage points more likely to be incarcerated
(37 percent) than employed (26 percent), as shown in Figure 5.
Because the white male incarceration rate is relatively low, the effect of excluding white
male prisoners from labor force surveys is far less dramatic. One consequence, however, is
that the white-black and white-Hispanic employment gap is understated when inmates are
excluded. For example, the white-black gap in EPOP for men ages 20–34 climbs from
16 percent to 23 percent when inmates are counted. (See Appendix A-3 for more details.)
The employment decline of black men also looks more severe when inmates are counted,
a pattern exacerbated by the nation’s rising rate of incarceration over the past 30 years.
(See Figure 6.) The country’s relatively modest scale of incarceration in 1980, for instance,
is reflected in the small gap between the unadjusted EPOP among young high school
dropouts and one accounting for those in prison and jail: 7 percentage points for black men
and 2 points for white men. In 2008, however, the comparatively high rate of incarceration
shows clear effects. The difference between unadjusted and adjusted EPOPs for whites is
8 percentage points, while it is twice that for blacks—16 points. Overall, the decline in prospects
for men ages 20–34 without a high school diploma is understated when incarcerated
populations are excluded. The EPOP of blacks in this category appears to drop 21 percentage
points over the 28-year span when inmates are excluded from the analysis, but is revealed
to have dropped 29 points when inmates are included. The corresponding figures for whites
in the same category are 10 and 16 points, respectively.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

15

INCARCERATION AND ECONOMIC MOBILITY
Comparing changes in the individual earnings and family incomes of men who spent time
incarcerated during the past two decades with those of men who did not, offers additional
evidence of incarceration’s economic ripple effects. Put simply, men imprisoned and
released between 1986 and 2006 were significantly less upwardly mobile than those who
did not spend time behind bars.32 Typically, one would expect maturity, hard work and
experience to gradually produce promotions and bigger paychecks. However, in both
relative and absolute terms, those who had been convicted of crimes and incarcerated in this
time period had much less success in getting ahead.
Analyses of relative economic mobility, which looks at the extent to which individuals are
able to move up the rungs of the earnings ladder relative to their peers, reveal much less
mobility for incarcerated men than for non-incarcerated men. For the formerly
incarcerated who had earnings in the bottom fifth, or quintile, of the distribution in 1986,
two-thirds (67 percent) remained at the bottom of the earnings ladder 20 years later in
2006.33 (See Figure 7.) By comparison, only one-third of men who were not incarcerated
during that time frame remained stuck at the bottom. Moreover, the odds of moving from
the bottom of the earnings distribution to the very top quintile were particularly low for
offenders. They had only a 2 percent chance of making such a climb, compared with a 15
percent chance for those who had not served time behind bars. Analyzing relative family
income mobility over those two decades yields similar results. (Family income reflects the
resources brought in by all family members, and thus reflects additional income men
might have access to through cohabitation or marriage; it also reflects non-earnings
sources of income such as public assistance.)

FIGURE 7

INCARCERATION INCREASES STICKINESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE
EARNINGS LADDER
Percent of men in the top and bottom of the earnings distribution
in 2006 who were in the bottom in 1986

80%
67

70%
60%

Not incarcerated

50%
40%

Incarcerated
33

30%
20%

15

10%

2
Stuck in the Bottom

Move to the Top

Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

16

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

Incarceration also lowers absolute economic mobility among the formerly incarcerated.
Measuring absolute mobility, rather than tracking changes in a person’s position in the
earnings distribution relative to others, involves determining whether a person is earning
less or more money over time.
There are several ways to examine absolute economic mobility. The research for this report
simply examined how likely it was for men’s earnings to exceed a particular level over 20
years. It finds that, among men who started out in the bottom fifth of earnings in 1986
(earning less than $7,800), those who were previously incarcerated were more likely than
those who were never incarcerated to have earnings in 2006 that remained below
$7,800.34 (See Figure 8.) Among never-incarcerated men, just 8
percent had earnings this low in 2006, whereas among previously
THE FISCAL CONSEQUENCES OF
incarcerated men, 21 percent did. Alternatively, a never-incarcerated
THE NATION’S INCARCERATION
man who started out in the bottom fifth in 1986 had a 54 percent
BOOM EXTEND WELL BEYOND
STRAINED STATE BUDGETS,
chance in 2006 of earning above $36,400 in inflation-adjusted
IMPAIRING
THE LIVELIHOODS
dollars, which would have put them in the top fifth in 1986. Among
OF FORMER INMATES AND,
previously incarcerated men, the likelihood was just 16 percent.
BY EXTENSION, THE WELL-BEING
OF THEIR FAMILIES AND
COMMUNITIES.

Overall, the economic experiences of former inmates show that the
costs of incarceration are not limited to the justice system itself.
Instead, the fiscal consequences of the nation’s incarceration boom extend well beyond
strained state budgets, impairing the livelihoods of former inmates and, by extension,
the well-being of their families and communities.
FIGURE 8

INCARCERATION HINDERS EARNINGS GROWTH
2006 earnings position for men who earned less than $7,800 in 1986

70%
60%

54
Not incarcerated

50%

Incarcerated

40%
30%
21

16

20%
8
10%
Still earned less than
$7,800 in 2006
(Bottom 1986
earnings quintile)

Earned more than
$36,400 in 2006
(Top 1986
earnings quintile)

Note: All earnings in 2006 dollars.
Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

17

THE INTERGENERATIONAL IMPACT OF INCARCERATION
Hidden behind the growing crowd of men and women behind bars in America is another,
often overlooked population—their children. Inadvertent victims of their parents’ crimes,
children of inmates weather a host of repercussions, from the emotional and psychological
trauma of separation to an increased risk of juvenile delinquency.35
Incarceration also creates economic aftershocks for these children and their families.
Disrupted, destabilized and deprived of a wage-earner, families with an incarcerated
parent are likely to experience a decline in household income as well as an increased
likelihood of poverty.36 The struggle to maintain ties with a family member confined in
an often-distant prison creates additional financial hardship for already fragile families
left behind.

CHILDREN WITH INCARCERATED PARENTS
The growth of incarceration in America has intergenerational impacts that policy
makers will have to confront. According to this analysis, more than 1.2 million
inmates—over half of the 2.3 million people behind bars—are parents
of children under age 18. This includes more than 120,000 mothers
“PEOPLE SOMETIMES MAKE BAD
and more than 1.1 million fathers. The racial concentration that
CHOICES. AS A RESULT, THEY
END UP IN PRISON OR JAIL. BUT
characterizes incarceration rates also extends to incarcerated parents.
WE CAN’T PERMIT
Nearly half a million black fathers, for example, are behind bars,
INCARCERATION OF A PARENT
a number that represents 40 percent of all incarcerated parents.
TO PUNISH AN ENTIRE FAMILY.”

The most alarming news lurking within these figures is that there are now
2.7 million minor children (under age 18) with a parent behind bars. (See
Figure 9.) Put more starkly, 1 in every 28 children in the United States—
more than 3.6 percent—now has a parent in jail or prison. Just 25 years ago, the figure
was only 1 in 125.

Eric Holder
United States
Attorney General

For black children, incarceration is an especially common family circumstance. More than
1 in 9 black children has a parent in prison or jail, a rate that has more than quadrupled
in the past 25 years. (See Figure 10.)
Because far more men than women are behind bars, most children with an incarcerated
parent are missing their father.37 For example, more than 10 percent of African American
children have an incarcerated father, and 1 percent have an incarcerated mother.

THE IMPACT OF PARENTAL INCARCERATION
With 2.7 million children growing up with a mother or father behind bars, the effects of
parental incarceration on children’s well-being and their prospects for economic mobility
merit serious scrutiny. At present, American longitudinal studies do not track children of
recently incarcerated parents into their wage-earning years, complicating attempts to fully

18

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

FIGURE 9

RISING NUMBERS OF CHILDREN WITH INCARCERATED PARENTS
Minor children outnumber incarcerated parents by more than 2 to 1

3,000,000
2.7
2,500,000

2,000,000

1,500,000
1.2
1,000,000

2008

2006

2004

2002

2000

1998

1996

1994

1992

1990

1988

1986

1984

1980

1982

500,000

Minor children with an incarcerated parent
Inmates with minor children
Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

FIGURE 10

ONE IN NINE BLACK CHILDREN HAVE AN INCARCERATED PARENT
Racial disproportion in incarceration reflected by children left behind

Percent of Children with an Incarcerated Parent

12%

11.4%
10.1%

10%

8%
6.6%
6%

4%

2%

3.5%

3.7%
3.2%

2.6%

1.8%

1.4%

1.3%

0.9%

0.4%
1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2008

Black children
Hispanic children
White children
Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

19

WHY PARENTS ARE INCARCERATED
While one-third of incarcerated parents are serving time for a violent crime, the offenses
of the other two-thirds were non-violent, with more than one-quarter of all convictions
coming from drug offenses. All told, 1 percent of all children currently have a parent
serving time for a drug crime.
As with other dimensions of the incarceration picture, racial disproportion shows up not
just in overall rates of parental incarceration but also when parents’ conviction offenses
are examined. More black children, for instance, have a parent locked up for a violent
offense (3.9 percent)—or a drug offense (3.8 percent)—than do Hispanic (3.5 percent)
or white kids (1.8 percent) for all offenses combined. (See Figure 11.)

FIGURE 11

LIKELIHOOD OF PARENTAL INCARCERATION
Percent of children with incarcerated parent by race and offense type

12%

11.4%
1.8%

10%
2.0%
8%

6%

4%

3.8%

3.6%
0.7%

3.5%

0.7%

1.8%

0.8%
0.6%

1.0%

0.4%
0.5%
0.3%
0.6%

2%

1.2%
All
Violent

3.9%

White
Drug

1.0%
1.1%
Black
Property

Hispanic
Other

Source: Original analysis for The Pew Charitable Trusts by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, 2009.

20

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

capture the intergenerational impact of incarceration on mobility. However, previous
research by the Economic Mobility Project suggests that two factors influenced by parental
incarceration—family income and children’s educational outcomes—have direct
implications for children’s future upward economic mobility.38
When a wage-earning parent is incarcerated, families often must scramble to make ends
meet. Research shows that more than two-thirds of men admitted to prison had been
employed.39 Almost half—44 percent—of parents held in state prisons lived with their
children prior to incarceration,40 and more than half of imprisoned
parents (52 percent of mothers and 54 percent of fathers) were the
ONE IN EVERY 28 CHILDREN
primary earners for their children.41 While in prison, parents are no
IN THE UNITED STATES—MORE
longer able to provide substantial economic support to their families.
THAN 3.6 PERCENT—NOW HAS
A PARENT IN JAIL OR PRISON.
JUST 25 YEARS AGO, THE
FIGURE WAS ONLY 1 IN 125.

Research illustrates the economic damage this reality inflicts on children.
One study examined the financial well-being of children before, during
and soon after the incarceration of a father. It found that in the period
that the father was behind bars, the average child’s family income fell 22 percent compared
with that of the year preceding the father’s incarceration.42 Family income rebounded somewhat
in the year after release, but was still 15 percent lower than in the year before incarceration.43

Data from the Economic Mobility Project show that parental income is one of the strongest
indicators of one’s own chances for upward economic mobility. Forty-two percent of
children who start out in the bottom fifth of the income distribution remain stuck in the
bottom themselves in adulthood.44 Having parents at the bottom of the income ladder is
even more of a barrier for African Americans, 54 percent of whom remain in the bottom
themselves as adults.45
Research also indicates that children whose parents serve time have more difficulty in
school than those who do not weather such an experience. One study found that 23
percent of children with a father who has served time in a jail or prison have been expelled
or suspended from school, compared with just 4 percent of children whose fathers have
not been incarcerated.46 Research that controls for other variables suggests that paternal
incarceration, in itself, is associated with more aggressive behavior among boys47 and an
increased likelihood of being expelled or suspended from school.48
This is especially troubling given the powerful impact education has on one’s upward
economic mobility in adulthood. Among those who start at the bottom of the income
ladder, 45 percent remain there in adulthood if they do not have a college degree, while
only 16 percent remain if they obtain a degree.49 And, children who start in the bottom of
the income ladder quadruple their chances of making it all the way to the top if they have
a college degree.50 As a new generation of children are touched by the incarceration of a
parent, and especially as those children feel the impact of that incarceration in their family
incomes and their educational success, their prospects for upward economic mobility
become significantly dimmer.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

21

PROMOTING ECONOMIC MOBILITY
The best way to avoid the consequences of prison is to avoid prison itself—for individuals
to avoid crime, and for policy makers to use imprisonment selectively in their response to
crime. While this report does not address why incarceration is so prevalent in America,
most would agree that it is in society’s and the economy’s best interest to reduce crime rates
and the resulting numbers of people behind bars. However, given the
fact that so many people do end up in prison, we also are concerned
“EVERYBODY— THE
EX-OFFENDER, THE
with the serious repercussions for them, their children and families, and
EX-OFFENDER’S FAMILY
broader society. Once offenders pay their debt to society, Americans
AND SOCIETY AT
expect them to rejoin their communities, take legitimate jobs, provide
LARGE —BENEFITS
for their families, and become taxpayers—rather than tax burdens.

FROM PROGRAMS THAT
EQUIP PRISONERS WITH
THE PROPER TOOLS TO
SUCCESSFULLY
REINTEGRATE INTO
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE
PRISON WALLS.”
Sam Brownback
United States Senator
(R-KS)

The severe and lingering impact of incarceration on the economic
prospects of former inmates makes that expectation elusive. The
financial consequences of incarceration are complex and extend beyond
inmates to their families and communities. And when returning inmates
fail, they cost society all over again, in the form of more victims, more
arrests, more prosecutions, and still more prisons.

Although big social and economic challenges often seem to defy realistic
intervention, policy makers are not without options as they seek to improve both public
safety and economic opportunity. One approach is to remove barriers to opportunity that
stand between the prison gate and the labor market. A second strategy is to contain prison
and jail growth in ways that protect public safety and hold offenders accountable.

FROM PRISON TO WORK
The first approach is straightforward and begins with the proactive reconnection of former
inmates with the job market. Research on the process of transitioning from prison back to
the community has documented the importance of securing stable employment as a
critical contributing factor to successful reentry.51 However, there are numerous barriers,
both formal and informal, for ex-inmates who are seeking work. Formerly incarcerated
people can be prohibited by law from working in many industries, living in public
housing, and receiving various governmental benefits, including Temporary Assistance for
Needy Families (TANF), food stamps and educational benefits.52 And the stigma of having
a felony record can be an insurmountable obstacle when a former inmate is eligible for
employment. Job seekers with a criminal record are offered half as many positions as those
without criminal records, and African American applicants receive two-thirds fewer
offers.53 These scenarios are the catalyst for efforts by some to remove the collateral
consequences of incarceration and to “ban the box,” which would prevent employers from
requiring that job seekers disclose past criminal convictions on job applications.54
Providing education, job training opportunities and work supports to offenders—both
before and immediately after their release from prison or jail—has been shown to help

22

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

these individuals secure employment and break the cycle of crime. A study of more than
3,600 offenders across Maryland, Ohio and Minnesota found that offenders who
participated in prison education programs were 29 percent less likely to be re-incarcerated
than non-participants.55 And in a cost-benefit analysis of crime-reduction programs from
across the United States over the past 25 years, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy
found significant gains to taxpayers from several workforce programs in terms of both
reduced recidivism and cost savings from reduced crime. In-prison vocational programs
produced net benefits of $13,738 per offender (a return of $12.62 for every dollar
invested), and adult general education produced net benefits of $10,669 per offender (or
$12.09 per dollar invested). Employment and job training services for offenders in the
community yielded $4,359 per offender, the equivalent of $11.90 per dollar invested.56
Unfortunately, the availability of comprehensive education and workforce training
programs is rare, and those that do exist have low participation rates; only about 10 percent
of all inmates attend educational, vocational or treatment programs on a given day.57 Policy
makers therefore might consider expanding and bringing to scale proven education and job
training programs that combine job search and placement support with services that address
former inmates’ specific barriers to employment, such as low skills or substance abuse.
Policy makers also could heed recent calls58 to subsidize transitional work programs—
often minimum wage manual jobs—for formerly incarcerated people. Evidence of these
programs’ effectiveness extends back at least three decades to the National Supported
Work Demonstration (evaluated 1975–1978), a randomized trial that reduced arrests by
22 percent for former prisoners over age 26.59 Another example, the ComALERT program
(evaluated 2004–2006), that combined supported employment with
housing and substance-abuse treatment, was found to reduce arrests
PROVIDING EDUCATION,
by nearly 20 percent.60 Such programs aim to prevent relapse to drug
JOB TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES
use and crime by intervening in the critical weeks and months after
AND WORK SUPPORTS TO
release from prison, thereby helping former inmates chart a new
OFFENDERS—BOTH BEFORE
AND IMMEDIATELY AFTER
course toward stable employment and economic self-sufficiency.
THEIR RELEASE FROM PRISON
OR JAIL—HAS BEEN SHOWN
TO HELP THESE INDIVIDUALS
SECURE EMPLOYMENT AND
BREAK THE CYCLE OF CRIME.

Another obstacle to former inmates’ economic viability is the money
many owe for court or supervision fees, victim restitution or child
support. These financial obligations are important mechanisms to
repay debts, support children and hold offenders accountable, and
former inmates should be required and given incentives to pay them. However, efforts to enforce
these obligations can also be self-defeating. A report by the Council of State Governments
Justice Center, for example, found that 12 percent of probation revocations—returns to
incarceration for violations—were due in part to a probationer’s failure to make required
payments.61 If inmates are sent back to prison, they obviously lose the ability to pay child
support, debts and other obligations. When supervised properly in the community,
probationers and parolees can repay their debts while building work skills and an
employment track record. For example, in just one year, offenders in Colorado serving
their sentences in community residential programs paid more than $5 million in child
support and state and federal taxes in addition to nearly $12 million for their own housing.62

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

23

Financial liens and garnishments against future earnings can detract from the rewards
of working for a living and undermine former inmates’ efforts to regain their economic
footing in the community. In some instances, debts garnished from their wages, such as
those owed to the criminal and civil justice systems, when combined with regular taxation
can impose effective tax rates as high as 65 percent.63 To encourage work, some experts
have suggested expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-earning
non-custodial parents.64 A refundable tax credit available to low-income working families,
the EITC has been shown by research to produce substantial increases in
employment and reductions in both welfare receipt and poverty.65 For
WHEN SUPERVISED
example, economists calculate that expansions of the EITC in 1993 and
PROPERLY IN THE
1996 helped more than half a million families move off of welfare and into
COMMUNITY,
the labor market.66 This is because people must work to be eligible for the
PROBATIONERS AND
credit, and among those with very low earnings, the credit increases as
PAROLEES CAN REPAY
THEIR DEBTS WHILE
earnings increase. However, under current federal income tax rules, lowBUILDING WORK SKILLS
income non-custodial parents are ineligible for the EITC benefits available
AND AN EMPLOYMENT
to families with children, even when they support their children through
TRACK RECORD.
full payment of child support.67 Researchers estimate that as many as
645,000 non-custodial parents would be eligible for the EITC, and that it would increase
their annual incomes by $500 to $1,900—an increase of 6 to 12 percent in income after
taxes and child support payments.68 This would represent a meaningful increase in
income, and a substantive incentive to work. Coupled with the powerful success of the
EITC in encouraging single parents to work, extending the child-based EITC to noncustodial parents could hold the potential for dramatically enhancing their upward
economic mobility prospects.

CONTAINING THE CORRECTIONS POPULATION
On another track, policy makers striving to reduce the impact of incarceration on
economic mobility in America can take steps to control the size of the prison population.
In recent years, a variety of states, led by members of both major political parties as well
as independents, have launched public safety initiatives that are accomplishing that goal
while cutting spending.
To be clear, violent and career criminals need to be put behind bars for significant terms.
At the same time, lower-risk offenders can be diverted to a system of high-quality
community supervision, services and tough sanctions that reduces recidivism and
enhances public safety while costing far less than prison. States and courts must properly
screen and sort offenders who are appropriate for community corrections and then work
to address the risk and need factors that drive their criminality. “Technical violators,”
offenders who have broken the rules of their probation or parole but not necessarily
committed new crimes, make up as much as half to two-thirds of prison admissions
in some states and are a particularly large target for diversion.69
Every day spent under community supervision rather than behind bars is an opportunity
for a sentenced individual to work. It’s an opportunity to build vocational experience,

24

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

to care for children, and to pay victim restitution and other fines and fees. Rather than
draining resources from the public coffer as inmates, offenders supervised in the community
can pay their own way and make amends to their victims for the harms they caused.
Recent statistics show that, on average, a day in state prison costs nearly $80 compared
with a day on probation supervision, which costs just $3.50.70 In other words, one day in
prison costs more than 22 days of probation. Instead of spending $80 on one person for
one day in prison, states could double the intensity of probation supervision and services
for that offender plus nine current probationers and still have $10 left over. As this
example shows, even modest reductions in incarceration can free up funds states can use
to more effectively and safely monitor people on parole and probation and strengthen
supervision and behavior modification programs that have been proven to reduce recidivism.
One approach to containing prison populations and limiting incarceration for low-level
offenders is the use of earned time credits. Earned credits encourage better inmate
behavior behind bars and more success stories once they return home by offering inmates
a shortened prison stay if they build their human capital by participating in educational,
vocational or rehabilitation programs. Completion of such programs
reduces risk inside and outside of prison while containing
“PERHAPS THE BIGGEST
correctional costs and freeing up funds for other taxpayer priorities.71

WASTE OF RESOURCES IN
ALL OF STATE GOVERNMENT
IS THE OVER-INCARCERATION
OF NONVIOLENT OFFENDERS
AND OUR MISHANDLING OF DRUG
AND ALCOHOL OFFENDERS.”

A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures
found that at least 31 states provide some type of earned time
incentives.72 Among them is Washington, which in 2003 expanded
the amount of earned time available to selected nonviolent drug and
property offenders from 33 percent of the total sentence to 50 percent
William Ray Price
of the sentence. A follow-up study found that offenders who earned
Chief Justice, Missouri
Supreme Court
the credits had fewer new felony convictions and that prison stays for
the eligible offenders dropped by more than two months, saving the state
money on incarceration costs.73 New York has experienced similar crime and cost-saving
benefits under its merit time program,74 and Kansas reports significant declines in both
parolee crime and parole revocations since its earned time policy took effect.75
To maintain the viability of these earned time options, policy makers must resist the
temptation to cut those inmate programs that have been proven to improve behavior and
reduce recidivism. Though much appears in jeopardy during these difficult budget years,
the elimination of such programs will likely end up costing more than it saves: parole or
releasing authorities generally hold inmates longer behind bars if they haven’t completed
programs, which adds to imprisonment costs, and then higher recidivism rates mean more
new victims of crime and an accelerated revolving door.
Similar earned time credits can be offered to offenders on probation and parole to
encourage compliance and avoid incarceration for violations. Nevada and Arizona recently
enacted legislation that grants early termination from community supervision for parolees

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

25

who toe the line by obeying rules and paying court-ordered restitution.76 This serves to
simultaneously encourage law-abiding behavior for those who want to get a clean start
while targeting more intensive supervision and services toward those who pose a greater
risk to public safety. The net result of this more efficient use of resources is less crime, fewer
trips back to prison and taxpayer savings.
While shorter supervision terms can be a powerful behavioral incentive to offenders, fiscal
rewards can help motivate corrections agencies to get better results with the people under
their watch. The basic model is for counties and other localities (or even state-level
agencies) to receive a share of the savings accrued at the state level through the reduction
in imprisonment that springs from improved community supervision success rates. Kansas
and Arizona are already well down this path, and the legislatures of Illinois and California
followed suit in 2009.77
The efficacy of a third tactic is evident in Hawaii. Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with
Enforcement (HOPE), conceived by a former federal prosecutor who is now a judge,
employs strategies identified by research into what works in
community corrections.78 HOPE’s winning ingredients are frequent
“QUITE FRANKLY, WE’RE IN A
drug tests and swift and certain sanctions—short but quickly
VERY TOUGH ECONOMY. THAT
imposed jail stays for drug use or other probation violations. To
IS SPURRING PEOPLE TO LOOK
AT DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS,
minimize disruptions of ongoing employment, these jail sanctions
ESPECIALLY ONES THAT COST
are imposed over the weekend for probationers with paycheck jobs.
LESS THAN INCARCERATION.”
Arrest warrants are issued for those who skip appointments, drug
treatment
is provided for those who cannot stay clean without
Gil Kerlikowske
Director of The Office
assistance, and probation officers get additional training to work
of National Drug
with their increasingly compliant caseloads. A recent evaluation
Control Policy
supported by the U.S. Department of Justice found that the program
had reduced arrests for new crimes by 55 percent, missed probation appointments by 61
percent, and drug use by 72 percent.79 And, due to decreased misbehavior and crime,
HOPE probationers use less, not more, prison space.80 The model is now the focus of
bipartisan federal legislation81 and replication programs are under development in several states.

CONCLUSION
Manifest in the American Dream is the belief that no matter where one begins, with hard
work and perseverance anyone can climb the economic ladder. Since the nation’s
founding, this dream has served as inspiration for all its citizens. However, research
conducted by Pew’s Economic Mobility Project demonstrates that while the American
Dream is alive and well for many, it is elusive for others and can be influenced by many
factors, including one’s educational and financial assets, as well as one’s race and parents’
income. In particular, many children of parents who begin on the bottom rung of the
income ladder are themselves on the bottom rung later in life, including a disproportionate
number of African Americans and those without a college degree.

26

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

Drawn disproportionately from the poorly educated and the marginally employed, the
millions of people in American jails and prisons faced poor mobility prospects before they
entered the prison walls. But by the time they leave, this research finds, they face even
smaller chances of finding and keeping jobs and moving up the income ladder. The
detrimental impact of incarceration on mobility merits particular attention because of the
explosive growth of jails and prisons over the past three decades. With so many people and
families affected, and with such concentration of the impacts among young, poorly
educated men from disadvantaged neighborhoods, discussions of
mobility in America must include reference to crime policy and the
THE DETRIMENTAL IMPACT OF
criminal justice system.

INCARCERATION ON MOBILITY
MERITS PARTICULAR ATTENTION
BECAUSE OF THE EXPLOSIVE
GROWTH OF JAILS AND PRISONS
OVER THE PAST THREE DECADES.

Further, the findings presented here foreshadow a disconcerting trend
for the economic mobility prospects of the 2.7 million children who
currently have an incarcerated parent. If previous mobility patterns of
“stickiness” at the bottom of the income ladder continue, children of
incarcerated parents, who are more likely to begin on the bottom rung of the ladder and
more likely to struggle in school and experience turmoil in their families, will find themselves
in a similar economic position as adults.

These findings make it clear that beyond the already substantial brick and mortar costs of
incarcerating such a significant portion of the population, there are additional costs to
former inmates, their families and their communities. Those who have been incarcerated
emerge from prisons and jails and work fewer weeks per year, receive lower wages and take
home smaller earnings. These costs now account for a substantial share of the economic
hardship faced, in particular, by young, undereducated racial and ethnic minorities.
Even as prison populations stabilize, the United States still will be forced to address the
legacy of the current prison population and the millions who have previously served terms
of incarceration.
The good news is that years of research and analysis point the way toward solutions that
reduce crime, contain spending and enhance the economic prospects of offenders and
their families. To support upward mobility, states can invest in programs that reconnect
former inmates with the labor market and remove obstacles to reintegration. To stop the
revolving door of incarceration, states can invest in research-based policies and programs
in the community that keep former inmates on the straight and narrow, improve public
safety and cost far less than incarceration. In so doing, policy makers can ensure a more
level playing field and greater prosperity for millions of Americans, their families,
and society at large.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

27

APPENDIX

METHODOLOGY
Incarceration Totals and Rates by Year, Age, Gender, Race/Ethnicity and Education
These estimates begin from Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data on penal populations
from 1980 to 2008 that are not disaggregated by gender, race, or education.82 To allocate
the aggregate totals across age-by-gender-by-race-by-education groups, correctional
surveys were analyzed, using data from the years in which surveys were conducted and
interpolating or extrapolating allocations in years for which surveys were unavailable.83
Two age groups (18-64 years old and 20-34 years old) and three education categories
(less than high school, high school/GED, and some college or more) were examined.
To compute rates, these estimates were divided by the number of Americans in the relevant
group (i.e., the number of incarcerated plus the number of civilians). Population estimates
for non-institutional civilians come from the March Current Population Survey,84 and they
are added to the inmate totals to get the base population.
Effect of Incarceration on Measured Employment Rates, by Age, Gender, Race/Ethnicity
and Education
To estimate how incarceration affects estimates of employment rates, the March Current
Population Survey was used to get the number of employed and non-institutionalized
non-employed. These numbers were combined with the estimated numbers of
incarcerated persons (see above). The employed include paid employees, those in unpaid
work in a family business, the self-employed, and civilians with a job but not at work.
Economic Mobility by Race/Ethnicity
Earnings and income mobility analyses were conducted using the National Longitudinal
Survey of Youth (NLSY) 1979 data,85 which follows a representative sample of people ages
14 to 21 as of December 31, 1978. The analyses compare men’s earnings and family
incomes in 1986 (when they were between the ages of 21 and 28) to their earnings and
incomes in 2006, twenty years later. The “non-incarcerated” were never incarcerated over
this period, while the “incarcerated” were in prison sometime in the years from 1987
to 2005. Individuals from either group may have been incarcerated at some point prior to
1986, but no one in either group was incarcerated in 1986 or in 2006.
In the relative mobility analyses, quintiles were computed from the 1986 distributions of
earnings or income and again from the 2006 distributions. Upward mobility, in these
analyses, refers to a person moving from the bottom 1986 quintile to a higher 2006

28

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

quintile. In the absolute mobility analyses, the 1986 quintiles are used for both years, so
that upward mobility refers to a person moving from the bottom 1986 quintile to a higher
1986 quintile in 2006. Confidence intervals for all cell percentages were obtained through
bootstrapping techniques.
All dollars in these and other analyses are expressed in 2009 dollars, using the Personal
Consumption Expenditures deflator.86
Effect of Incarceration on Male Hourly Wages, Weeks Worked and Annual Earnings,
by Race/Ethnicity
To analyze the impact of incarceration on wages, employment and earnings, the NLSY
1979 data was used, examining men from 1983 to 2006. Linear regression models were
estimated predicting log hourly wages, annual weeks worked, and log annual earnings
from an indicator of past incarceration and various control variables. The models included
individual fixed effects, which control for all unchanging characteristics of an individual,
and they were restricted to men who at some point indicated spending time in jail or
prison (or who were interviewed in a correctional facility while serving time). All
observations in which a respondent was currently incarcerated were dropped. The wage
and earnings models also omitted observations with $0 in wages or earnings for the year.
Models were estimated separately for each race/ethnicity group.
Initially, the models control for age (logged), education, an indicator for enrollment in
school, region, and an indicator for living in an urban area. Next, work experience was
added to the models, which generally had little effect on the coefficient on past
incarceration. Finally, potentially endogenous control variables were added, including an
indicator for being married, one for using drugs, and one for being a member of a union,
plus industry controls. These also generally had little impact on the apparent importance
of past incarceration.
In Figure 4, predicted outcomes are shown for men aged 45 as described in endnote 24.
Lifetime Earnings Loss, by Race/Ethnicity
Using the regression model for annual earnings estimated above, but with an additional
term indicating whether or not a man was currently incarcerated in a given year (as
opposed to previously incarcerated), annual earnings were predicted for each man from
1979 to 2006 (the most recent wave of the NLSY, when men were age 41 to 48) and then
aggregated.87 Then annual earnings were predicted again setting the current and previous
incarceration indicators to zero, yielding the predicted earnings had a man not been

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

29

incarcerated. The difference between these two predicted lifetime earnings is the amount
lost due to incarceration. The median for all incarcerated men is then reported (with
separate analyses for each race/ethnicity). Finally, the aggregate earnings loss is compared
to other aggregate figures, such as the aggregate earnings of men who experienced
incarceration or of all men.88
Children with an Incarcerated Parent by Year, Gender of Parent, Race/Ethnicity
and Most Serious Type of Offense
Using the correctional surveys noted above, the percentage of male and female inmates
who report having different numbers of minor children are computed by year and
race/ethnicity. These percentages then are applied to aggregate incarcerated population
counts from the Bureau of Justice Statistics to yield the number of children age 0-17 with
incarcerated mothers and fathers. Census population estimates of the overall number of
children 0-17 are combined with these estimates to produce the percentage of children
with incarcerated parents, which are reported by year, gender of parent, race/ethnicity, and
type of offense.

TABLE A-1
INCARCERATION RATES
MEN, AGES 18-64

WOMEN, AGES 18-64

White

Black

Hispanic

White

Black

Hispanic

1980

0.4%

3.1%

1.6%

0.0%

0.2%

0.1%

1990

0.7%

5.5%

2.9%

0.1%

0.4%

0.2%

2000

1.0%

7.7%

3.3%

0.1%

0.6%

0.2%

2008

1.1%

8.0%

2.7%

0.1%

0.6%

0.2%

MEN, AGES 20-34

WOMEN, AGES 20-34

White

Black

Hispanic

White

Black

Hispanic

1980

0.6%

5.2%

2.3%

0.0%

0.3%

0.1%

1990

1.1%

8.3%

3.9%

0.1%

0.6%

0.3%

2000

1.6%

11.2%

4.4%

0.2%

0.8%

0.3%

2008

1.8%

11.4%

3.7%

0.2%

0.8%

0.3%

...continued

30

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

TABLE A-1
INCARCERATION RATES ...continued
MEN, AGES 20-34
Less than High School Education
White

Black

1980

2.4%

10.6%

1990

3.8%

2000
2008

Hispanic

WOMEN, AGES 20-34
Less than High School Education
White

Black

Hispanic

3.2%

0.1%

0.6%

0.2%

19.6%

5.1%

0.4%

1.7%

0.5%

7.7%

30.2%

6.6%

1.1%

2.8%

0.6%

12.0%

37.1%

7.0%

1.8%

3.9%

0.7%

MEN, AGES 20-34
High School Education
White

Black

1980

0.8%

4.7%

1990

1.4%

2000
2008

WOMEN, AGES 20-34
High School Education
Hispanic

White

Black

Hispanic

2.5%

0.0%

0.2%

0.1%

7.1%

3.8%

0.1%

0.5%

0.2%

2.3%

11.7%

4.4%

0.3%

0.8%

0.3%

2.0%

9.1%

2.6%

0.4%

0.7%

0.3%

MEN, AGES 20-34
Some college
White

Black

1980

0.2%

1.9%

1990

0.3%

2000
2008

WOMEN, AGES 20-34
Some college
Hispanic

White

Black

Hispanic

0.8%

0.0%

0.1%

0.1%

2.9%

1.6%

0.0%

0.2%

0.2%

0.3%

2.1%

1.1%

0.0%

0.2%

0.1%

0.3%

2.1%

0.9%

0.1%

0.2%

0.1%

Note: White and Black refer to non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

31

TABLE A-2
CHILDREN OF INCARCERATED PARENTS
PERCENT OF CHILDREN (UNDER AGE 18)
WITH A PARENT IN PRISON OR JAIL
White

Black

1980

0.4%

1990

Hispanic

All

2.6%

1.3%

0.8%

0.9%

6.6%

3.2%

2.0%

2000

1.4%

10.1%

3.7%

3.1%

2008

1.8%

11.4%

3.5%

3.6%

This 2008 figure is composed of:
White

Black

Hispanic

All

Fathers

1.5%

10.4%

3.2%

3.2%

Mothers

0.3%

1.0%

0.3%

0.4%

PERCENT OF CHILDREN (UNDER AGE 18) WITH
A PARENT IN PRISON OR JAIL, BY OFFENSE TYPE
Violent

Drug

Property

Other

1980

0.1%

0.1%

0.2%

0.3%

1990

0.2%

0.4%

0.4%

1.0%

2000

0.7%

0.9%

0.6%

1.0%

2008

1.2%

1.0%

0.7%

0.7%

FOR WHITE CHILDREN:
Percentage of children with a parent
in prison or jail, by offense type
Violent

Drug

Property

Other

1980

0.1%

0.0%

0.1%

0.2%

1990

0.1%

0.1%

0.2%

0.5%

2000

0.3%

0.3%

0.3%

0.5%

2008

0.6%

0.3%

0.5%

0.4%

...continued

32

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

TABLE A-2
CHILDREN OF INCARCERATED PARENTS ...continued

FOR BLACK CHILDREN:
Percentage of children with a parent
in prison or jail, by offense type
Violent

Drug

Property

Other

1980

0.5%

0.3%

0.7%

1.1%

1990

0.7%

1.5%

1.1%

3.3%

2000

2.3%

3.3%

1.7%

2.8%

2008

3.9%

3.8%

1.9%

1.8%

FOR HISPANIC CHILDREN:
Percentage of children with a parent
in prison or jail, by offense type
Violent

Drug

Property

Other

1980

0.2%

0.4%

0.3%

0.5%

1990

0.2%

1.1%

0.5%

1.4%

2000

0.7%

1.2%

0.6%

1.2%

2008

1.1%

1.0%

0.6%

0.8%

Note: The 1980 cohort is born 1960-1964; the 1990 cohort is born 1970-1974; the 2000 cohort is born 1980-1984; the 2009
cohort is born 1989-1993.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

33

TABLE A-3
EMPLOYMENT-TO-POPULATION RATES, WITH/WITHOUT INMATES

FOR 18–64 YEAR-OLD MEN:
White

Hispanic

Black

Black-White Gap

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

1980

83.7%

83.4%

69.9%

67.7%

81.3%

80.0%

13.9%

15.7%

1990

84.2%

83.6%

70.4%

66.5%

81.5%

79.2%

13.8%

17.1%

2000

84.0%

83.2%

72.1%

66.5%

84.3%

81.5%

11.9%

16.6%

2008

80.4%

79.4%

66.5%

61.1%

80.4%

78.2%

13.9%

18.3%

1980
Gap

0.3%

2.2%

1.3%

2008
Gap

0.9%

5.4%

2.2%

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

FOR 20–34 YEAR-OLD MEN:
White

Black

Hispanic

Black-White Gap

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

1980

85.3%

84.8%

72.5%

68.7%

81.5%

79.6%

12.9%

16.1%

1990

86.7%

85.8%

73.0%

66.9%

85.8%

82.4%

13.7%

18.8%

2000

86.5%

85.1%

73.6%

65.3%

87.2%

83.4%

12.9%

19.8%

2008

81.8%

80.3%

65.4%

57.8%

82.1%

79.1%

16.4%

22.5%

1980
Gap

0.6%

3.8%

1.9%

2008
Gap

1.5%

7.6%

3.0%

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

...continued

34

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

TABLE A-3
EMPLOYMENT-TO-POPULATION RATES, WITH/WITHOUT INMATES ...continued

FOR 20–34 YEAR-OLD MEN
with less than high school education:
White

Black

Hispanic

Black-White Gap

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

Inmates
Excluded

Inmates
Included

1980

75.0%

73.2%

62.4%

55.8%

80.4%

77.8%

12.6%

17.5%

1990

77.0%

74.1%

49.9%

40.1%

83.3%

79.0%

27.1%

34.0%

2000

74.5%

68.8%

45.0%

31.4%

84.8%

79.2%

29.5%

37.4%

2008

65.4%

57.6%

41.9%

26.3%

80.4%

74.8%

23.6%

31.3%

1980
Gap

1.8%

6.6%

2.6%

2008
Gap

7.8%

15.6%

5.6%

Inmates
Excluded

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

Inmates
Included

35

NOTES
1
2
3

4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11

12
13

14
15
16

17

18

19

20
21
22

23
24
25

26
27
28
29

36

Pew Center on the States, 2008b, “One in 100.”
Ibid.
Isaacs, Sawhill, and Haskins, 2008.
Economic Mobility Project, 2009a.
Isaacs, Sawhill, and Haskins, 2008.
Isaacs, Sawhill, and Haskins, 2008.
Western, 2006; Glaze and Marushak, 2008.
Johnson, 2009.
Ibid.
Isaacs, Sawhill, and Haskins, 2008.
International Centre for Prison Studies, 2009. Note that our comparison excludes from
China’s inmate count perhaps more than five hundred thousand people in “re-education
through labour camps.” See the “Prison Brief for China” page at
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/worldbrief/wpb_country.php?country=91.
Pew Center on the States, 2008b, “One in 100.”
The Bureau of Justice Statistics, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/tables/corr2tab.cfm,
accessed June 4, 2010.
Pew Center on the States, 2009.
Ibid.
Unless otherwise noted, all estimates in the rest of the report are from analyses by Bruce
Western and Becky Pettit for The Pew Charitable Trusts. See the Appendix for all
methodological details.
“High school dropouts,” by this definition, include about 1 in 10 white men aged 20 to 29
in the United States, about one in four black men, and about one in two Hispanic men in
that age group. Computations by Pew staff from tabulations by Heckman and LaFontaine
(2008), Tables A.1 and A.2. The estimates are from the 2000 Census Integrated Public Use
Microdata Series (IPUMS).
Analysis by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit for The Pew Charitable Trusts. See the
Appendix for all methodological details.
Economic Mobility Project, 2009a, “Findings from a National Survey.” When asked to rate
factors important to an individual’s economic mobility, 92 percent of respondents said “hard
work” was essential or very important and 89 percent said “having ambition” was essential
or very important. Respondents also rated highly “staying healthy” and “having a good
education” (83 percent and 81 percent respectively called these essential or very important).
See Western, 2002; Holzer, 2009.
McLean and Thompson, 2007.
This sidebar draws heavily on a critical review of the research literature prepared for The
Pew Charitable Trusts by Dr. Steven Raphael of the University of California at Berkeley.
Freeman, 1991.
Grogger, 1995.
See, for example, Western, 2002; Cho and Lalonde, 2005; Kling, 2006; Jung, 2007;
Pettit and Lyons, 2007; Raphael, 2007; Sabol, 2007; and Sweeten and Apel, 2007.
McLean and Thompson, 2007.
Holzer, 2009.
See Western, 2006, p. 110-111.
These estimates and those in Figure 4 were computed by Pew staff using regression
coefficients and means estimated by Western and Pettit. See the Appendix for details.
The analyses also include individual fixed effects (i.e. any characteristic that is constant
over someone’s life) and are based on a sample of men who were incarcerated at some point
during the survey. Statistically controlling for work experience, marital status, drug use,
union membership, industry, occupation, and whether one works in the public sector

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

30

31

32

33
34

35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54

55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65

had little effect on the results, but they are not shown because these are factors that
could themselves be influenced by incarceration. Data are computed from the National
Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 cohort. The predicted values in Figure 4 are for men
age 45 who live in the Northeast, are not enrolled in school, and who have the average
level of schooling for the sample and the average probability of living in an urban area.
Amount adjusted from 2000 dollars to 2009 dollars by Pew staff using the Personal
Consumption Expenditures deflator. The percentages cited here and in Table 1 were
computed by Pew staff from figures provided by Western and Pettit.
Note: Pew is making no claim with regard to what the EPOP would be if these inmates
were not incarcerated and were part of the regular labor pool. Rather, we are pointing out
that ignoring the incarcerated population causes official figures to overstate the productive
engagement of various demographic groups.
It is important to recognize that the average term of incarceration is short enough that it
does not occupy a substantial portion of this 20-year observation period. The median length
of stay in prison is 17 months, and the mean is 30 months. (Data from National Corrections
Reporting Program, 2003, for first time prison releases only.)
Earnings refer to an individual’s wages and salary income, as well as tips.
Earnings and income figures in this section were adjusted to 2009 dollars by Pew staff
using the Personal Consumption Expenditures deflator.
Travis, McBride, and Solomon, 2003.
Johnson, 2009.
See the Appendix for more details on parental incarceration by sex.
Butler, Beach and Winfree, 2008.
See Western 2006, p. 111.
Glaze and Maruschak, 2008.
Ibid.
Johnson, 2009.
Ibid.
Isaacs, Sawhill, and Haskins, 2008.
Ibid.
Johnson, 2009.
Wildeman, 2008.
Johnson, 2009.
Isaacs, Sawhill, and Haskins, 2008.
Ibid.
Solomon et al. 2004.
See Western, 2008, p. 20–21.
Travis and Visher, 2007.
The evaluation literature on policies that restrict collateral consequences deserves
additional research to better identify the expected effects in terms of employment,
earnings and recidivism.
Steurer et al., undated.
Aos, Miller, and Drake, 2006.
Travis and Visher, 2007.
See, for example, Western, 2008, pp. 16–18
See Western, 2008, p. 11.
Ibid.
McLean and Thompson, 2007.
Pew Center on the States, 2009.
Holzer, 2009.
See, for example, Economic Mobility Project 2009b, “Renewing the American Dream.”
Greenstein, 2005.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

37

66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77

78
79
80
81

82

83

84
85
86

87

88

38

Ibid.
Wheaton and Sorenson, 2009.
Ibid.
See, for example, Council of State Governments, 2007, p. 3.
Pew Center on the States, 2009.
See Aos, Miller, and Drake, 2006; Lawrence, 2009.
Lawrence, 2009.
Drake, Barnoski, and Aos, 2009.
See New York State Department of Correctional Services, 2007.
Werholtz, 2009.
In Nevada, see AB510 (2007); in Arizona, see SB1476 (2008).
In Kansas, see SB14 (2007); in Arizona, see again SB1476 (2008); in Illinois, see the
Crime Reduction Act (2009); and in California, see SB 698 (2009). See also Pew Center
on the States, 2008a “Getting in Sync.”
Pew Center on the States and the National Institute of Justice, 2010.
Hawken and Kleiman, 2009.
Ibid.
See HR 4055, introduced by Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Congressman
Ted Poe (R-TX).
Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics Online
(http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t612006.pdf), Prison Inmates at Midyear 2008,
and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2008 (http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/). Data for federal and state
inmates from 1982-1984 and 1986-1989 were provided by BJS. Jail counts are for the last
business day in June, while federal and state counts are for December 31 except in 2007 and
2008, when they are also in June.
Surveys used include the 1978, 1983, 1989, 1996, and 2002 Surveys of Inmates of Local
Jails; the 1979, 1986, 1991, 1997, and 2004 Surveys of Inmates of State Correctional
Facilities; and the 1991, 1997, and 2004 Surveys of Inmates of Federal Correctional
Facilities. Estimates between survey years were interpolated within facility type. Estimates
for federal inmates in years prior to 1991 were based on the 1991 distribution of inmates
in federal prisons, while estimates for years following the last survey conducted of a facility
type were based on the distribution of inmates in the facility type in the last survey.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/cps/).
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/nls/).
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis
(http://www.bea.gov/national/index.htm#gdp).
Earnings were first imputed for non-survey years and for survey nonresponse using
within-respondent mean imputation.
Prison costs are from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004, State Prison Expenditures.
NCJ 20249. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

RESOURCES
Aos, Steve, Marna Miller, and Elizabeth Drake. 2006. “Evidence-Based Public Policy Options to Reduce
Future Prison Construction, Criminal Justice Costs, and Crime Rates.” Olympia, WA: Washington State
Institute for Public Policy. http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/06-10-1201.pdf.
Butler, Stuart M., William W. Beach, and Paul L. Winfree. 2008. Pathways to Economic Mobility: Key
Indicators. Washington, DC: The Economic Mobility Project, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
http://www.economicmobility.org/assets/pdfs/PEW_EMP_PATHWAYS.pdf.
Cho, Rosa, and Robert LaLonde. 2005. “The Impact of Incarceration in State Prison on the Employment
Prospects of Women.” Harris School Working Paper #5-10. Chicago: University of Chicago.
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=826456.
Council of State Governments Justice Center. 2007. Justice Reinvestment State Brief: Kansas. New York, NY:
Council of State Governments Justice Center. http://www.justicereinvestment.org/states/kansas/pubmaps-ks.
Drake, Elizabeth, Robert Barnoski, and Steve Aos. 2009. “Increased Earned Release from Prison: Impacts
of a 2003 Law on Recidivism and Crime Costs, Revised.” Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for
Public Policy. http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/pub.asp?docid=09-04-1201.
Economic Mobility Project. 2009a. “Findings from a National Survey and Focus Groups on Economic
Mobility.” Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts. http://www.economicmobility.org/poll2009.
Economic Mobility Project. 2009b, “Renewing the American Dream: A Roadmap to Enhancing Economic
Mobility in America.” Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts. http://economicmobility.org/roadmap.
Freeman, Richard. 1991. “Crime and the Employment of Disadvantaged Youth.” National Bureau of
Economics Research Working Paper #3875. http://www.nber.org/papers/w3875.pdf.
Glaze, Lauren, Laura Maruschak, and U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2008; revised 2010. “Parents in Prison
and Their Minor Children.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/pptmc.pdf.
Greenstein, Robert. 2005. “The Earned Income Tax Credit: Boosting Employment, Aiding
the Working Poor.” Washington, DC: The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
http://www.stateeitc.com/research/CBPP_EITC_071905_Report.pdf.
Grogger, Jeffrey. 1995. “The Effect of Arrest on the Employment and Earnings of Young Men.” Quarterly
Journal of Economics, 110(1) 51–71.
Heckman, James and Paul A. LaFontaine. 2008. “Estimating High School Graduation Rates,” Web Appendix.
Available at http://jenni.uchicago.edu/estimating_hsgraduation/Ch1_Data_Appendix_2008-10-23a_smt.pdf.
Hawken, Angela, and Mark Kleiman. 2009. “Managing Drug Involved Offenders with Swift and Certain
Sanctions: Evaluating Hawaii’s HOPE.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.
http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/229023.pdf.
Holzer, Harry. 2009. “Collateral Costs: Effects of Incarceration on Employment and Earnings Among Young
Workers.” In Do Prisons Make Us Safer? The Benefits and Costs of the Prison Boom, ed. Steven Raphael
and Michael Stoll, 239–263. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Isaacs, Julia, Isabel Sawhill, and Ron Haskins. 2008. Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Economic Mobility
in America. Economic Mobility Project. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.
http://www.economicmobility.org/assets/pdfs/PEW_EMP_GETTING_AHEAD_FULL.pdf.
International Centre for Prison Studies. 2009. “World Prison Brief.” London: Kings College.
Data accessed December 2009. http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/worldbrief/.
Johnson, Rucker C. 2009. “Ever-Increasing Levels of Parental Incarceration and the Consequences for
Children.” In Do Prisons Make Us Safer? The Benefits and Costs of the Prison Boom, ed. Steven Raphael
and Michael Stoll, 177–206. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Jung, Haeil. 2007. “The Effects of First Incarceration on Male Ex-Offenders’ Employment and Earnings,”
Working Paper, University of Chicago.
Kling, Jeffrey R. 2006. “Incarceration Length, Employment, and Earnings,” American Economic Review,
96(3): 863–876.
Lawrence, Alison. 2009. “Cutting Corrections Costs: Earned Time Policies for State Prisoners.” Denver:
National Conference of State Legislatures. http://www.ncsl.org/documents/cj/Earned_time_report.pdf.
McLean, Rachel, and Michael Thompson. 2007. “Repaying Debts.” Council of State Governments Justice
Center. http://reentrypolicy.org/jc_publications/repaying_debts_full_report.

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

39

New York State Department of Correctional Services. 2007. “Merit Time Program Summary: October 1997–
December 2006.” http://www.docs.state.ny.us/Research/Reports/2007/Merit_Time_Through_2006.pdf.
Pettit, Becky, and Christopher Lyons. 2007.”Status and the Stigma of Incarceration: The Labor Market Effects
of Incarceration by Race, Class, and Criminal Involvement.” In Barriers to Reentry? The Labor Market for
Released Prisoners in Post-Industrial America, ed. Shawn Bushway, Michael Stoll, and David Weiman,
206–226. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Pew Center on the States. 2008a. “Getting in Sync: State-Local Fiscal Partnerships for Public Safety.”
Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.
http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/report_detail.aspx?id=41836.
Pew Center on the States. 2008b. “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008.” Washington, DC:
The Pew Charitable Trusts. http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/report_detail.aspx?id=35904.
Pew Center on the States. 2009. “One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections.” Washington, DC:
The Pew Charitable Trusts. http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/report_detail.aspx?id=49382.
Pew Center on the States and the National Institute of Justice. 2010. “The Impact of Hawaii’s HOPE Program
on Drug Use, Crime and Recidivism.” Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.
http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/PSPP_HOPE_Brief_web.pdf?n=8765.
Raphael, Steven. 2007. “Early Incarceration Spells and the Transition to Adulthood.” In The Price of
Independence, ed. Sheldon Danziger and Cecilia Rouse, 278–305. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Sabol, William J. 2007. “Local Labor-Market Conditions and Post-Prison Employment Experiences of
Offenders released from Ohio State Prisons.” In Barriers to Reentry? The Labor Market for Released
Prisoners in Post-Industrial America, ed. Shawn Bushway, Michael Stoll, and David Weiman, 257–303.
New York: Russell Sage Foundation. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/p08.pdf.
Solomon, Amy, Kelly Johnson, Jeremy Travis, and Elizabeth McBride. 2004. “From Prison to Work:
The Employment Dimensions of Prisoner Reentry, A Report to the Reentry Roundtable.”
Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute. http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411106_prison_to_work.pdf.
Steurer, Stephen, Linda Smith, and Alice Tracy. Undated. “The Three State Recidivism Study,” United States
Department of Education Office of Correctional Education.
http://dpscs.maryland.gov/publicinfo/publications/pdfs/three-state-recidivism-study-summary.pdf.
Sweeten, Gary, and Robert Apel. 2007. “Incarceration and the Transition to Adulthood.” Working Paper,
National Poverty Center. http://npc.umich.edu/publications/u/working_paper07-23.pdf.
Travis, Jeremy, Elizabeth McBride, and Amy Solomon. 2003; revised 2005. “Families Left Behind:
The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Reentry.” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/310882_families_left_behind.pdf.
Travis, Jeremy and Christy A. Visher. 2007. “Prisoner Reentry and the Pathways to Adulthood: Policy
Perspectives.” In On Your Own Without a Net: The Transition to Adulthood for Vulnerable Populations,
ed. D. Wayne Osgood, E. Michael Foster, Constance Flanagan, and Gretchen R. Ruthy, 145-177. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Werholtz, Roger. 2009. Statement at Hearing on Justice Reinvestment before the Commerce, Justice, Science,
and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee of the United States House
of Representatives, April 1, 2009. http://www.justicereinvestment.org/states/kansas/pubmaps-ks.
Western, Bruce. 2008. “From Prison to Work: A Proposal for a National Prisoner Reentry Program.”
Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution. http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/
2008/12_prison_to_work_western/12_prison_to_work_western.pdf.
Western, Bruce. 2006. Punishment and Inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Western, Bruce. 2002. “The Impact of Incarceration on Wage Mobility and Inequality.” American Sociological
Review, (67): 526–546. http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/soc/faculty/western/pdfs/western_asr.pdf.
Wheaton, Laura, and Elaine Sorensen. 2009. “Extending the EITC to Noncustodial Parents: Potential
Impacts and Design Considerations.” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/09/NCP-EITC/report.shtml#_Toc230856628.
Wildeman, Christopher. 2008. “Parental Incarceration, the Prison Boom, and the Intergenerational
Transmission of Stigma and Disadvantage.” Doctoral dissertation, Department of Sociology and the
Office of Population Research, Princeton University.

40

COLLATERAL COSTS: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

The Economic Mobility Project is a nonpartisan collaborative effort of The Pew Charitable Trusts
that seeks to focus attention and debate on the question of economic mobility and the health
of the American Dream. It is led by Pew staff and a Principals’ Group of individuals from
five leading policy institutes—The American Enterprise Institute, The Brookings Institution,
The Heritage Foundation, The New America Foundation, and The Urban Institute. As individuals,
each principal may or may not agree with potential policy solutions or prescriptions for
action but all believe that economic mobility plays a central role in defining the American
experience and that more attention must be paid to understanding the status of U.S.
economic mobility today.
EMP PROJECT PRINCIPALS
Richard Burkhauser, Ph.D., American Enterprise Institute
Marvin Kosters, Ph.D., American Enterprise Institute
Ron Haskins, Ph.D., Center on Children and Families, The Brookings Institution
Stuart Butler, Ph.D., Domestic and Economic Policy Studies, The Heritage Foundation
William Beach, Center for Data Analysis, The Heritage Foundation
Ray Boshara, Domestic Policy Programs, The New America Foundation
Harry Holzer, Ph.D., The Urban Institute
Eugene Steuerle, Ph.D., Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, The Urban Institute
Sheila Zedlewski, Income and Benefits Policy Center, The Urban Institute
EMP PROJECT ADVISORS
David Ellwood, Ph.D., John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Christopher Jencks, M. Ed., John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Susan Mayer, Ph.D., Irving B. Harris School of Public Policy, The University of Chicago
Bhashkar Mazumder, Ph.D., Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Sara McLanahan, Ph.D., Princeton University
Ronald Mincy, Ph.D., Columbia University School of Social Work
Timothy M. Smeeding, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Eric Wanner, Ph.D., The Russell Sage Foundation

All Economic Mobility Project (EMP) materials are reviewed by and guided with input
from the project’s Advisory Board. The views expressed in this report are
those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the institutions they represent,
of EMP’s Advisory Board or of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

 

 

The Habeas Citebook Ineffective Counsel Side
Advertise Here 2nd Ad
Prison Phone Justice Campaign