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The Impact of Incarceration on Employment during the Transition to Adulthood

Robert Apel, Gary Sweeten
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2010.57.3.448 448-479 First published online: 1 August 2010

Abstract

The research findings with respect to the relationship between incarceration and employment are consistent enough that it is tempting to conclude that incarceration causes deterioration in ex-inmates' employment prospects. Yet, causality remains tenuous for several reasons. For one, studies frequently rely on samples of nonincarcerated subjects that are not truly "at risk" of incarceration, which undermines their use as comparison samples and potentially biases estimates of the impact of incarceration on life outcomes. Additionally, even with confidence about causal identification, the field remains ignorant about the precise mechanism by which incarceration erodes employment and earnings. To address these gaps, this study uses the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to estimate the impact of incarceration during late adolescence and early adulthood on short- and long-term employment outcomes. The subjects of interest are all individuals who are convicted of a crime for the first time, some of whom receive a sentence of incarceration following their conviction. Broad measures of legal and illegal employment are used to explore possible avenues by which incarceration affects individual work histories.

  • incarceration
  • labor supply
  • job quality
  • illegal income

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