September 26, 2005

Incarceration and Unemployment

After reading "The American Welfare State" by Katz I was surprised by a number of revalations and statistics outlined in this reading. One portion of the reading that stood out most in my mind was the section comparing the U.S. rate of unemployment in relation to western European countries. "Official" U.S. unemployment rates were consistently lower than those in western European countries. The reason quoted for this lower unemployment rate in the U.S. was that the U.S. labor market was far less regulated and the market was "freer" compared to a European market inundated with unionization and a higher welfare state. While this makes sense intuitiavely, Katz makes a surprising revelation when he indicates that comparing the U.S. and western European countries was not a true "apples to apples" comparison because the U.S. unemployment rate does not take into account the number of inmates incarcerated in prisions and jails. Katz goes on to explain that factoring in the U.S. incarceration rate (which is significantly higher than western European countries) raises the "true" rate of joblessness in the U.S. This higher rate of incarceration not only artficially deflates the U.S. unemployment rate, but also has the added negatve impact of reducing job prospects for ex-convicts. This is because few employers want to hire an ex-con. Thus, young, unskilled minority men (who are incarcerated at a much higher rate than any other group) are caught in a vicious cycle of jail and unemployment from which they find it nearly impossible to escape. The prision system that is designed to rehabilitate convicts thus serves to perpetuate the unemployment cycle.

Posted by at at 11:57 PM