The Degree of Disadvantage: Incarceration and Racial Inequality in Education

Stephanie Ewert, University of Washington
Becky Pettit, University of Washington
Bryan L. Sykes, University of Washington

More than fifty years after Brown v. Board of education blacks still lag behind whites in high school graduation rates, and the exact size of the racial gap in high school completion has become a source of much scholarly and political debate (Heckman and LaFontaine 2007; Greene & Winters 2005). While data from the Current Population Survey suggest steady increases in the proportion of African Americans with high school diplomas over the past 3 decades, Common Core Data indicate substantially higher high school dropout, especially among African Americans (Warren and Halpern-Manners forthcoming; Heckman and LaFontaine 2007). In this paper, we examine how the rise in incarceration—and its disproportionate concentration among low-skill, young, African American men—influences the estimation of racial inequality in educational attainment. We find that conventional data sources that exclude the incarcerated population underestimate the dropout rate among black men by as much as 40%.

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Presented in Session 113: Racial and Ethnic Inequality