U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Impact of Incarceration on Employment During the Transition to Adulthood

NCJ Number
Social Problems Volume: 57 Issue: 3 Dated: 2010 Pages: 448-479
Date Published
32 pages

This study investigated the impact that incarceration during late adolescence and early adulthood had on offenders' short-term and long-term employment outcomes.


This study estimated the impact that incarceration during late adolescence and early adulthood has on offenders' short-term and long-term employment outcomes and found that while incarceration led to an 11-percent reduction in the probability of formal employment, for those who found formal work, incarceration had no impact on the number of weeks employed. In addition, the study found that, overall, incarceration had no statistically significant effect on wages, except for low-end wage earners who had a modest wage penalty due to incarceration. The study also found that while ex-inmates earned higher wages in the first post-sanction period this was due to longer hours working as opposed to the acquisition of high-wage jobs. Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) were used for the study. During each interview in the study, information is gathered on the participant's experiences with the criminal justice system, including arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences, as well as information on their employment outcomes and earnings. The data were analyzed to determine the effect, if any, that incarceration might have on employment outcomes and earnings potential for participants who had been incarcerated during late adolescence and early adulthood. The findings suggest that while ex-inmates experience no immediate negative effect in their job quality as a result of incarceration, substantial deterioration in job quality does occur in subsequent years. This later deterioration however, may be due to experience gaps that accumulate while time is spent outside the labor force as opposed to being incarcerated. Study limitations and implications for policy are discussed. Tables, figure, appendixes, and references

Date Published: January 1, 2010