George Mason University Social Inequality and American Stratification System Paper

In 2013, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, many social media users used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Although the hashtag was initially used in response to the perceived injustice of this event, its use quickly spread to other encounters with police officers or citizens that led to the death or mistreatment of black individuals. Of course, there are a host of social problems and inequalities that black Americans disproportionately experience, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement embraces many of these issues as central to its cause. The movement’s website describes how it is “committed to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.”

For your paper, please discuss the role of the American stratification system in instigating the racial-justice movement exemplified by #BlackLivesMatter. Specifically:

What social problems led to the disempowerment of black Americans?

Then, discuss how we can understand the movement in light of the theory of color-blind racism (Bonilla-Silva). What are the major tenets of color-blind racism, and how do they apply to this case?

  • Finally, please interpret the movement from Marxist, Weberian, and elite theorist perspectives on inequality (all three, not just one). As you discuss each perspective, briefly summarize the main argument (that applies to the current topic), and then state how it applies to #BlackLivesMatter.
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    American Apartheid
    Segregation and the Making of the Underclass
    N A N C Y A . D E N TO N
    It is quite simple. As soon as there is a group area then all your uncertainties are
    removed and that is, after all, the primary purpose of this Bill [requiring racial segregation in housing].
    —Minister of the Interior, Union of South Africa
    legislative debate on the Group Areas Act of 1950
    During the 1970s and 1980s a word disappeared from the American vocabulary.1 It
    was not in the speeches of politicians decrying the multiple ills besetting American
    cities. It was not spoken by government officials responsible for administering the nation’s social programs. It was not mentioned
    by journalists reporting on the rising tide of
    homelessness, drugs, and violence in urban
    America. It was not discussed by foundation executives and think-tank experts
    proposing new programs for unemployed
    parents and unwed mothers. It was not articulated by civil rights leaders speaking out
    against the persistence of racial inequality;
    and it was nowhere to be found in the
    thousands of pages written by social scien-
    tists on the urban underclass. The word was
    Most Americans vaguely realize that
    urban America is still a residentially segregated society, but few appreciate the depth
    of black segregation or the degree to which
    it is maintained by ongoing institutional
    arrangements and contemporary individual
    actions. They view segregation as an unfortunate holdover from a racist past, one that
    is fading progressively over time. If racial
    residential segregation persists, they reason,
    it is only because civil rights laws passed
    during the 1960s have not had enough
    time to work or because many blacks still
    prefer to live in black neighborhoods. The
    residential segregation of blacks is viewed
    Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass
    (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 1–9, 12–16, 239–241. Copyright © 1993 by the
    President and Fellows of Harvard University Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
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    charitably as a “natural” outcome of impersonal social and economic forces, the same
    forces that produced Italian and Polish
    neighborhoods in the past and that yield
    Mexican and Korean areas today.
    But black segregation is not comparable
    to the limited and transient segregation experienced by other racial and ethnic
    groups, now or in the past. No group in the
    history of the United States has ever experienced the sustained high level of residential
    segregation that has been imposed on
    blacks in large American cities for the past
    fifty years. This extreme racial isolation did
    not just happen; it was manufactured by
    whites through a series of self-conscious actions and purposeful institutional arrangements that continue today. Not only is the
    depth of black segregation unprecedented
    and utterly unique compared with that of
    other groups, but it shows little sign of
    change with the passage of time or improvements in socioeconomic status.
    If policymakers, scholars, and the public
    have been reluctant to acknowledge segregation’s persistence, they have likewise been
    blind to its consequences for American
    blacks. Residential segregation is not a neutral fact; it systematically undermines the social and economic well-being of blacks in the
    United States. Because of racial segregation,
    a significant share of black America is condemned to experience a social environment
    where poverty and joblessness are the norm,
    where a majority of children are born out of
    wedlock, where most families are on welfare,
    where educational failure prevails, and where
    social and physical deterioration abound.
    Through prolonged exposure to such an environment, black chances for social and economic success are drastically reduced.
    Deleterious neighborhood conditions are
    built into the structure of the black commu-
    nity. They occur because segregation concentrates poverty to build a set of mutually reinforcing and self-feeding spirals of decline into
    black neighborhoods. When economic dislocations deprive a segregated group of employment and increase its rate of poverty,
    socioeconomic deprivation inevitably becomes more concentrated in neighborhoods
    where that group lives. The damaging social
    consequences that follow from increased
    poverty are spatially concentrated as well, creating uniquely disadvantaged environments
    that become progressively isolated—geographically, socially, and economically—from
    the rest of society.
    The effect of segregation on black wellbeing is structural, not individual. Residential segregation lies beyond the ability of
    any individual to change; it constrains
    black life chances irrespective of personal
    traits, individual motivations, or private
    achievements. For the past twenty years this
    fundamental fact has been swept under the
    rug by policymakers, scholars, and theorists
    of the urban underclass. Segregation is the
    missing link in prior attempts to understand the plight of the urban poor. As long
    as blacks continue to be segregated in
    American cities, the United States cannot
    be called a race-blind society.
    The Forgotten Factor
    The present myopia regarding segregation is
    all the more startling because it once figured
    prominently in theories of racial inequality.
    Indeed, the ghetto was once seen as central
    to black subjugation in the United States. In
    1944 Gunnar Myrdal wrote in An American
    Dilemma that residential segregation “is
    basic in a mechanical sense. It exerts its influence in an indirect and impersonal way:
    because Negro people do not live near white
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    American Apartheid
    people, they cannot . . . associate with each
    other in the many activities founded on
    common neighborhood. Residential segregation . . . becomes reflected in uni-racial
    schools, hospitals, and other institutions”
    and creates “an artificial city . . . that permits any prejudice on the part of public officials to be freely vented on Negroes
    without hurting whites.”2
    Kenneth B. Clark, who worked with
    Gunnar Myrdal as a student and later applied his research skills in the landmark
    Brown v. Topeka school integration case,
    placed residential segregation at the heart
    of the U.S. system of racial oppression. In
    Dark Ghetto, written in 1965, he argued
    that “the dark ghetto’s invisible walls have
    been erected by the white society, by those
    who have power, both to confine those
    who have no power and to perpetuate their
    powerlessness. The dark ghettos are social,
    political, educational, and—above all—
    economic colonies. Their inhabitants are
    subject peoples, victims of the greed, cruelty, insensitivity, guilt, and fear of their
    Public recognition of segregation’s role in
    perpetuating racial inequality was galvanized in the late 1960s by the riots that
    erupted in the nation’s ghettos. In their aftermath, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission chaired by Governor
    Otto Kerner of Illinois to identify the
    causes of the violence and to propose policies to prevent its recurrence. The Kerner
    Commission released its report in March
    1968 with the shocking admonition that
    the United States was “moving toward two
    societies, one black, one white—separate
    and unequal.”4 Prominent among the
    causes that the commission identified for
    this growing racial inequality was residential segregation.
    In stark, blunt language, the Kerner
    Commission informed white Americans
    that “discrimination and segregation have
    long permeated much of American life;
    they now threaten the future of every
    American.”5 “Segregation and poverty have
    created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white
    Americans. What white Americans have
    never fully understood—but what the
    Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto.
    White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”6
    The report argued that to continue present policies was “to make permanent the
    division of our country into two societies;
    one, largely Negro and poor, located in the
    central cities; the other, predominantly
    white and affluent, located in the suburbs.”7 Commission members rejected a
    strategy of ghetto enrichment coupled with
    abandonment of efforts to integrate, an approach they saw “as another way of choosing a permanently divided country.”8
    Rather, they insisted that the only reasonable choice for America was “a policy which
    combines ghetto enrichment with programs designed to encourage integration of
    substantial numbers of Negroes into the society outside the ghetto.”9
    America chose differently. Following the
    passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968,
    the problem of housing discrimination was
    declared solved, and residential segregation
    dropped off the national agenda. Civil
    rights leaders stopped pressing for the enforcement of open housing, political leaders
    increasingly debated employment and educational policies rather than housing integration, and academicians focused their
    theoretical scrutiny on everything from
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    culture to family structure, to institutional
    racism, to federal welfare systems. Few people spoke of racial segregation as a problem
    or acknowledged its persisting consequences. By the end of the 1970s residential segregation became the forgotten factor
    in American race relations.10
    While public discourse on race and
    poverty became more acrimonious and
    more focused on divisive issues such as
    school busing, racial quotas, welfare, and affirmative action, conditions in the nation’s
    ghettos steadily deteriorated.11 By the end of
    the 1970s, the image of poor minority families mired in an endless cycle of unemployment, unwed childbearing, illiteracy, and
    dependency had coalesced into a compelling and powerful concept: the urban underclass.12 In the view of many middle-class
    whites, inner cities had come to house a
    large population of poorly educated single
    mothers and jobless men—mostly black
    and Puerto Rican—who were unlikely to
    exit poverty and become self-sufficient. In
    the ensuing national debate on the causes
    for this persistent poverty, four theoretical
    explanations gradually emerged: culture,
    racism, economics, and welfare.
    Cultural explanations for the underclass
    can be traced to the work of Oscar Lewis,
    who identified a “culture of poverty” that
    he felt promoted patterns of behavior inconsistent with socioeconomic advancement.13 According to Lewis, this culture
    originated in endemic unemployment and
    chronic social immobility, and provided an
    ideology that allowed poor people to cope
    with feelings of hopelessness and despair
    that arose because their chances for socioeconomic success were remote. In individuals, this culture was typified by a lack of
    impulse control, a strong present-time orientation, and little ability to defer gratifica-
    tion. Among families, it yielded an absence
    of childhood, an early initiation into sex, a
    prevalence of free marital unions, and a
    high incidence of abandonment of mothers
    and children.
    Although Lewis explicitly connected the
    emergence of these cultural patterns to
    structural conditions in society, he argued
    that once the culture of poverty was established, it became an independent cause of
    persistent poverty. This idea was further
    elaborated in 1965 by the Harvard sociologist and then Assistant Secretary of Labor
    Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in a confidential report to the President focused on
    the relationship between male unemployment, family instability, and the intergenerational transmission of poverty, a process he
    labeled a “tangle of pathology.”14 He warned
    that because of the structural absence of employment in the ghetto, the black family
    was disintegrating in a way that threatened
    the fabric of community life.
    When these ideas were transmitted
    through the press, both popular and scholarly, the connection between culture and
    economic structure was somehow lost, and
    the argument was popularly perceived to be
    that “people were poor because they had a
    defective culture.” This position was later explicitly adopted by the conservative theorist
    Edward Banfield, who argued that lowerclass culture—with its limited time horizon,
    impulsive need for gratification, and psychological self-doubt—was primarily responsible for persistent urban poverty.15 He
    believed that these cultural traits were largely
    imported, arising primarily because cities attracted lower-class migrants.
    The culture-of-poverty argument was
    strongly criticized by liberal theorists as a
    self-serving ideology that “blamed the victim.”16 In the ensuing wave of reaction,
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    black families were viewed not as weak but,
    on the contrary, as resilient and welladapted survivors in an oppressive and
    racially prejudiced society.17 Black disadvantages were attributed not to a defective
    culture but to the persistence of institutional racism in the United States. According to theorists of the underclass such as
    Douglas Glasgow and Alphonso Pinkney,
    the black urban underclass came about because deeply imbedded racist practices
    within American institutions—particularly
    schools and the economy—effectively kept
    blacks poor and dependent.18
    As the debate on culture versus racism
    ground to a halt during the late 1970s, conservative theorists increasingly captured
    public attention by focusing on a third possible cause of poverty: government welfare
    policy. According to Charles Murray, the
    creation of the underclass was rooted in the
    liberal welfare state.19 Federal antipoverty
    programs altered the incentives governing
    the behavior of poor men and women, reducing the desirability of marriage, increasing the benefits of unwed childbearing,
    lowering the attractiveness of menial labor,
    and ultimately resulted in greater poverty.
    A slightly different attack on the welfare
    state was launched by Lawrence Mead, who
    argued that it was not the generosity but
    the permissiveness of the U.S. welfare system that was at fault.20 Jobless men and
    unwed mothers should be required to display “good citizenship” before being supported by the state. By not requiring
    anything of the poor, Mead argued, the
    welfare state undermined their independence and competence, thereby perpetuating their poverty.
    This conservative reasoning was subsequently attacked by liberal social scientists,
    led principally by the sociologist William
    Julius Wilson, who had long been arguing
    for the increasing importance of class over
    race in understanding the social and economic problems facing blacks.21 In his 1987
    book The Truly Disadvantaged, Wilson argued that persistent urban poverty stemmed
    primarily from the structural transformation of the inner-city economy.22 The decline of manufacturing, the suburbanization
    of employment, and the rise of a low-wage
    service sector dramatically reduced the
    number of city jobs that paid wages sufficient to support a family, which led to high
    rates of joblessness among minorities and a
    shrinking pool of “marriageable” men (those
    financially able to support a family). Marriage thus became less attractive to poor
    women, unwed childbearing increased, and
    female-headed families proliferated. Blacks
    suffered disproportionately from these
    trends because, owing to past discrimination, they were concentrated in locations
    and occupations particularly affected by
    economic restructuring.
    Wilson argued that these economic
    changes were accompanied by an increase
    in the spatial concentration of poverty
    within black neighborhoods. This new geography of poverty, he felt, was enabled by
    the civil rights revolution of the 1960s,
    which provided middle-class blacks with
    new opportunities outside the ghetto.23
    The out-migration of middle-class families
    from ghetto areas left behind a destitute
    community lacking the institutions, resources, and values necessary for success in
    post-industrial society. The urban underclass thus arose from a complex interplay of
    civil rights policy, economic restructuring,
    and a historical legacy of discrimination.
    Theoretical concepts such as the culture
    of poverty, institutional racism, welfare disincentives, and structural economic change
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    have all been widely debated. None of these
    explanations, however, considers residential
    segregation to be an important contributing cause of urban poverty and the underclass. In their principal works, Murray and
    Mead do not mention segregation at all;24
    and Wilson refers to racial segregation only
    as a historical legacy from the past, not as an
    outcome that is institutionally supported
    and actively created today.25 Although Lewis
    mentions segregation sporadically in his
    writings, it is not assigned a central role in
    the set of structural factors responsible for
    the culture of poverty, and Banfield ignores
    it entirely. Glasgow, Pinkney, and other
    theorists of institutional racism mention
    the ghetto frequently, but generally call not
    for residential desegregation but for racespecific policies to combat the effects of discrimination in the schools and labor
    markets. In general, then, contemporary
    theorists of urban poverty do not see high
    levels of black-white segregation as particularly relevant to understanding the underclass or alleviating urban poverty.26
    The purpose of this book is to redirect
    the focus of public debate back to issues of
    race and racial segregation, and to suggest
    that they should be fundamental to thinking about the status of black Americans and
    the origins of the urban underclass. Our
    quarrel is less with any of the prevailing
    theories of urban poverty than with their
    systematic failure to consider the important
    role that segregation has played in mediating, exacerbating, and ultimately amplifying the harmful social and economic
    processes they treat.
    We join earlier scholars in rejecting the
    view that poor urban blacks have an autonomous “culture of poverty” that explains
    their failure to achieve socioeconomic success in American society. We argue instead
    that residential segregation has been instrumental in creating a structural niche within
    which a deleterious set of attitudes and behaviors—a culture of segregation—has
    arisen and flourished. Segregation created
    the structural conditions for the emergence
    of an oppositional culture that devalues
    work, schooling, and marriage and that
    stresses attitudes and behaviors that are antithetical and often hostile to success in the
    larger economy. Although poor black
    neighborhoods still contain many people
    who lead conventional, productive lives,
    their example has been overshadowed in recent years by a growing concentration of
    poor, welfare-dependent families that is an
    inevitable result of residential segregation.
    We readily agree with Douglas, Pinkney,
    and others that racial discrimination is
    widespread and may even be institutionalized within large sectors of American society, including the labor market, the
    educational system, and the welfare bureaucracy. We argue, however, that this view of
    black subjugation is incomplete without
    understanding the special role that residential segregation plays in enabling all other
    forms of racial oppression. Residential segregation is the institutional apparatus that
    supports other racially discriminatory
    processes and binds them together into a
    coherent and uniquely effective system of
    racial subordination. Until the black ghetto
    is dismantled as a basic institution of American urban life, progress ameliorating racial
    inequality in other arenas will be slow, fitful, and incomplete.
    We also agree with William Wilson’s
    basic argument that the structural transformation of the urban economy undermined
    economic supports for the black community during the 1970s and 1980s.27 We
    argue, however, that in the absence of seg-
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    regation, these structural changes would
    not have produced the disastrous social and
    economic outcomes observed in inner cities
    during these decades. Although rates of
    black poverty were driven up by the economic dislocations Wilson identifies, it was
    segregation that confined the increased deprivation to a small number of densely settled, tightly packed, and geographically
    isolated areas.
    Wilson also argues that concentrated
    poverty arose because the civil rights revolution allowed middle-class blacks to move
    out of the ghetto. Although we remain
    open to the possibility that class-selective
    migration did occur,28 we argue that concentrated poverty would have happened
    during the 1970s with or without black
    middle-class migration. Our principal objection to Wilson’s focus on middle-class
    out-migration is not that it did not occur,
    but that it is misdirected: focusing on the
    flight of the black middle class deflects attention from the real issue, which is the
    limitation of black residential options
    through segregation.
    Middle-class households—whether they
    are black, Mexican, Italian, Jewish, or Polish—always try to escape the poor. But
    only blacks must attempt their escape
    within a highly segregated, racially segmented housing market. Because of segregation, middle-class blacks are less able to
    escape than other groups, and as a result are
    exposed to more poverty. At the same time,
    because of segregation no one will move
    into a poor black neighborhood except
    other poor blacks. Thus both middle-class
    blacks and poor blacks lose compared with
    the poor and middle class of other groups:
    poor blacks live under unrivaled concentrations of poverty and affluent blacks live in
    neighborhoods that are far less advanta-
    geous than those experienced by the middle
    class of other groups.
    Finally, we concede Murray’s general
    point that federal welfare policies are linked
    to the rise of the urban underclass, but we
    disagree with his specific hypothesis that
    generous welfare payments, by themselves,
    discouraged employment, encouraged
    unwed childbearing, undermined the
    strength of the family, and thereby caused
    persistent poverty.29 We argue instead that
    welfare payments were only harmful to the
    socioeconomic well-being of groups that
    were residentially segregated. As poverty
    rates rose among blacks in response to the
    economic dislocations of the 1970s and
    1980s, so did the use of welfare programs.
    Because of racial segregation, however, the
    higher levels of welfare receipt were confined to a small number of isolated, allblack neighborhoods. By promoting the
    spatial concentration of welfare use, therefore, segregation created a residential environment within which welfare dependency
    was the norm, leading to the intergenerational transmission and broader perpetuation of urban poverty.
    Coming to Terms with
    American Apartheid
    Our fundamental argument is that racial
    segregation—and its characteristic institutional form, the black ghetto—are the key
    structural factors responsible for the perpetuation of black poverty in the United
    States. Residential segregation is the principal organizational feature of American society that is responsible for the creation of the
    urban underclass. . . . It can be shown that
    any increase in the poverty rate of a residentially segregated group leads to an immediate and automatic increase in the
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    geographic concentration of poverty. When
    the rate of minority poverty is increased
    under conditions of high segregation, all of
    the increase is absorbed by a small number
    of neighborhoods. When the same increase
    in poverty occurs in an integrated group,
    the added poverty is spread evenly throughout the urban area, and the neighborhood
    environment that group members face does
    not change much.
    During the 1970s and 1980s, therefore,
    when urban economic restructuring and inflation drove up rates of black and Hispanic
    poverty in many urban areas, underclass
    communities were created only where increased minority poverty coincided with a
    high degree of segregation—principally in
    older metropolitan areas of the northeast
    and the midwest. Among Hispanics, only
    Puerto Ricans developed underclass communities, because only they were highly
    segregated; and this high degree of segregation is directly attributable to the fact that a
    large proportion of Puerto Ricans are of
    African origin.
    The interaction of intense segregation
    and high poverty leaves black neighborhoods extremely vulnerable to fluctuations
    in the urban economy, because any dislocation that causes an upward shift in black
    poverty rates will also produce a rapid
    change in the concentration of poverty and,
    hence, a dramatic shift in the social and economic composition of black neighborhoods. The concentration of poverty, for
    example, is associated with the wholesale
    withdrawal of commercial institutions and
    the deterioration or elimination of goods
    and services distributed through the market.
    Neighborhoods, of course, are dynamic
    and constantly changing, and given the
    high rates of residential turnover characteristic of contemporary American cities, their
    well-being depends to a great extent on the
    characteristics and actions of their residents. Decisions taken by one actor affect
    the subsequent decisions of others in the
    neighborhood. In this way isolated actions
    affect the well-being of the community and
    alter the stability of the neighborhood.
    Because of this feedback between individual and collective behavior, neighborhood stability is characterized by a series of
    thresholds, beyond which various self-perpetuating processes of decay take hold.
    Above these thresholds, each actor who
    makes a decision that undermines neighborhood well-being makes it increasingly
    likely that other actors will do the same.
    Each property owner who decides not to
    invest in upkeep and maintenance, for example, lowers the incentive for others to
    maintain their properties. Likewise, each
    new crime promotes psychological and
    physical withdrawal from public life, which
    reduces vigilance within the neighborhood
    and undermines the capacity for collective
    organization, making additional criminal
    activity more likely.
    Segregation increases the susceptibility of
    neighborhoods to these spirals of decline.
    During periods of economic dislocation, a
    rising concentration of black poverty is associated with the simultaneous concentration of other negative social and economic
    conditions. Given the high levels of racial
    segregation characteristic of American
    urban areas, increases in black poverty such
    as those observed during the 1970s can
    only lead to a concentration of housing
    abandonment, crime, and social disorder,
    pushing poor black neighborhoods beyond
    the threshold of stability.
    By building physical decay, crime, and
    social disorder into the residential structure
    of black communities, segregation creates a
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    harsh and extremely disadvantaged environment to which ghetto blacks must
    adapt. In concentrating poverty, moreover,
    segregation also concentrates conditions
    such as drug use, joblessness, welfare dependency, teenage childbearing, and unwed
    parenthood, producing a social context
    where these conditions are not only common but the norm. By adapting to this social environment, ghetto dwellers evolve a
    set of behaviors, attitudes, and expectations
    that are sharply at variance with those common in the rest of American society.
    As a direct result of the high degree of
    racial and class isolation created by segregation, for example, Black English has become progressively more distant from
    Standard American English, and its speakers are at a clear disadvantage in U.S.
    schools and labor markets. Moreover, the
    isolation and intense poverty of the ghetto
    provides a supportive structural niche for
    the emergence of an “oppositional culture”
    that inverts the values of middle-class society. Anthropologists have found that young
    people in the ghetto experience strong peer
    pressure not to succeed in school, which severely limits their prospects for social mobility in the larger society. Quantitative
    research shows that growing up in a ghetto
    neighborhood increases the likelihood of
    dropping out of high school, reduces the
    probability of attending college, lowers the
    likelihood of employment, reduces income
    earned as an adult, and increases the risk of
    teenage childbearing and unwed pregnancy.
    Segregation also has profound political
    consequences for blacks, because it so isolates them geographically that they are the
    only ones who benefit from public expenditures in their neighborhoods. The relative
    integration of most ethnic groups means
    that jobs or services allocated to them will
    generally benefit several other groups at the
    same time. Integration thus creates a basis
    for political coalitions and pluralist politics,
    and most ethnic groups that seek public resources are able to find coalition partners
    because other groups can anticipate sharing
    the benefits. That blacks are the only ones
    to benefit from resources allocated to the
    ghetto—and are the only ones harmed
    when resources are removed—makes it difficult for them to find partners for political
    coalitions. Although segregation paradoxically makes it easier for blacks to elect representatives, it limits their political
    influence and marginalizes them within the
    American polity. Segregation prevents
    blacks from participating in pluralist politics based on mutual self-interest.
    Because of the close connection between
    social and spatial mobility, segregation also
    perpetuates poverty. One of the primary
    means by which individuals improve their
    life chances—and those of their children—
    is by moving to neighborhoods with higher
    home values, safer streets, higher-quality
    schools, and better services. As groups
    move up the socioeconomic ladder, they
    typically move up the residential hierarchy
    as well, and in doing so they not only improve their standard of living but also enhance their chances for future success.
    Barriers to spatial mobility are barriers to
    social mobility, and by confining blacks to a
    small set of relatively disadvantaged neighborhoods, segregation constitutes a very
    powerful impediment to black socioeconomic progress.
    Despite the obvious deleterious consequences of black spatial isolation, policymakers have not paid much attention to
    segregation as a contributing cause of urban
    poverty and have not taken effective steps
    to dismantle the ghetto. Indeed, for most of
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    the past two decades public policies tolerated and even supported the perpetuation
    of segregation in American urban areas. Although many political initiatives were
    launched to combat discrimination and
    prejudice in the housing and banking industries, each legislative or judicial act was
    fought tenaciously by a powerful array of
    people who believed in or benefited from
    the status quo.
    Although a comprehensive open housing
    bill finally passed Congress under unusual
    circumstances in 1968, it was stripped of its
    enforcement provisions as its price of enactment, yielding a Fair Housing Act that was
    structurally flawed and all but doomed to
    fail. As documentation of the law’s defects
    accumulated in multiple congressional hearings, government reports, and scholarly
    studies, little was done to repair the situation until 1988, when a series of scandals
    and political errors by the Reagan administration finally enabled a significant strengthening of federal antidiscrimination law.
    Yet even more must be done to prevent
    the permanent bifurcation of the United
    States into black and white societies that are
    separate and unequal. As of 1990, levels of
    racial segregation were still extraordinarily
    high in the nation’s large urban areas, particularly those of the north. Segregation has
    remained high because fair housing enforcement relies too heavily on the private
    efforts of individual victims of discrimination. Whereas the processes that perpetuate
    segregation are entrenched and institutionalized, fair housing enforcement is individual, sporadic, and confined to a small
    number of isolated cases.
    As long as the Fair Housing Act is enforced individually rather than systemically,
    it is unlikely to be effective in overcoming
    the structural arrangements that support
    segregation and sustain the ghetto. Until the
    government throws its considerable institutional weight behind efforts to dismantle
    the ghetto, racial segregation will persist. . . .
    Ultimately, however, dismantling the
    ghetto and ending the long reign of racial
    segregation will require more than specific
    bureaucratic reforms; it requires a moral
    commitment that white America has historically lacked. The segregation of American blacks was no historical accident; it was
    brought about by actions and practices that
    had the passive acceptance, if not the active
    support, of most whites in the United
    States. Although America’s apartheid may
    not be rooted in the legal strictures of its
    South African relative, it is no less effective
    in perpetuating racial inequality, and whites
    are no less culpable for the socioeconomic
    deprivation that results.
    As in South Africa, residential segregation in the United States provides a firm
    basis for a broader system of racial injustice.
    The geographic isolation of Africans within
    a narrowly circumscribed portion of the
    urban environment—whether African
    townships or American ghettos—forces
    blacks to live under extraordinarily harsh
    conditions and to endure a social world
    where poverty is endemic, infrastructure is
    inadequate, education is lacking, families
    are fragmented, and crime and violence are
    rampant.30 Moreover, segregation confines
    these unpleasant by-products of racial oppression to an isolated portion of the urban
    geography far removed from the experience
    of most whites. Resting on a foundation of
    segregation, apartheid not only denies
    blacks their rights as citizens but forces
    them to bear the social costs of their own
    Although Americans have been quick to
    criticize the apartheid system of South
    2:12 PM
    Page 163
    American Apartheid
    Africa, they have been reluctant to acknowledge the consequences of their own
    institutionalized system of racial separation.
    The topic of segregation has virtually disappeared from public policy debates; it has
    vanished from the list of issues on the civil
    rights agenda; and it has been ignored by
    social scientists spinning endless theories of
    the underclass. Residential segregation has
    become the forgotten factor of American
    race relations, a minor footnote in the ongoing debate on the urban underclass.
    Until policymakers, social scientists, and
    private citizens recognize the crucial role of
    America’s own apartheid in perpetuating
    urban poverty and racial injustice, the
    United States will remain a deeply divided
    and very troubled society.31
    1. Epigraph from Edgar H. Brookes,
    Apartheid: A Documentary Study of Modern South
    Africa (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,
    1968), p. 142.
    2. Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma,
    vol. 1 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1944), p.
    618; see also Walter A. Jackson, Gunnar Myrdal
    and America’s Conscience (Chapel Hill: University
    of North Carolina Press, 1990), pp. 88–271.
    3. Kenneth B. Clark, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas
    of Social Power (New York: Harper and Row,
    1965), p. 11.
    4. U.S. National Advisory Commission on
    Civil Disorders, The Kerner Report (New York:
    Pantheon Books, 1988), p. 1.
    5. Ibid.
    6. Ibid., p. 2.
    7. Ibid., p. 22.
    8. Ibid.
    9. Ibid.
    10. A few scholars attempted to keep the
    Kerner Commission’s call for desegregation alive,
    but their voices have largely been unheeded in
    the ongoing debate. Thomas Pettigrew has continued to assert the central importance of resi-
    dential segregation, calling it the “linchpin” of
    American race relations; see “Racial Change and
    Social Policy,” Annals of the American Academy of
    Political and Social Science 441 (1979):114–31.
    Gary Orfield has repeatedly pointed out segregation’s deleterious effects on black prospects for
    education, employment, and socioeconomic mobility; see “Separate Societies: Have the Kerner
    Warnings Come True?” in Fred R. Harris and
    Roger W. Wilkins, eds., Quiet Riots: Race and
    Poverty in the United States (New York: Pantheon
    Books, 1988), pp. 100–122; and “Ghettoization
    and Its Alternatives,” in Paul E. Peterson, ed.,
    The New Urban Reality (Washington, D.C.:
    Brookings Institution, 1985), pp. 161–96.
    11. See Thomas B. Edsall and Mary D. Edsall,
    Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and
    Taxes on American Politics (New York: Norton,
    12. For an informative history of the evolution
    of the concept of the underclass, see Michael B.
    Katz, The Undeserving Poor: From the War on
    Poverty to the War on Welfare (New York: Pantheon, 1989), pp. 185–235.
    13. Oscar Lewis, La Vida: A Puerto Rican
    Family in the Culture of Poverty—San Juan and
    New York (New York: Random House, 1965);
    “The Culture of Poverty,” Scientific American 215
    (1966): 19–25; “The Culture of Poverty,” in
    Daniel P. Moynihan, ed., On Understanding
    Poverty: Perspectives from the Social Sciences (New
    York: Basic Books, 1968), pp. 187–220.
    14. The complete text of this report is
    reprinted in Lee Rainwater and William L.
    Yancey, The Moynihan Report and the Politics of
    Controversy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1967), pp.
    15. Edward C. Banfield, The Unheavenly City
    (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970).
    16. William Ryan, Blaming the Victim (New
    York: Random House, 1971).
    17. Carol Stack, All Our Kin: Strategies of Survival in a Black Community (New York: Harper
    and Row, 1974).
    18. Douglas C. Glasgow, The Black Underclass: Poverty, Unemployment, and Entrapment of
    Ghetto Youth (New York: Vintage, 1981), p. 11;
    Alphonso Pinkney, The Myth of Black Progress
    2:12 PM
    Page 164
    D O U G L A S S . M A S S EY A N D N A N C Y A . D E N TO N
    (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984),
    pp. 78–80.
    19. Charles Murray, Losing Ground: American
    Social Policy, 1950–1980 (New York: Basic
    Books, 1984).
    20. Lawrence M. Mead, Beyond Entitlement:
    The Social Obligations of Citizenship (New York:
    Free Press, 1986).
    21. William Julius Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American
    Institutions (Chicago: University of Chicago
    Press, 1978).
    22. William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
    1987), pp. 1–108.
    23. Ibid., pp. 49–62.
    24. The subject indices of Losing Ground and
    Beyond Entitlement contain no references at all to
    residential segregation.
    25. The subject index of The Truly Disadvantaged contains two references to pre1960s Jim
    Crow segregation.
    26. Again with the exception of Thomas Pettigrew and Gary Orfield.
    27. We have published several studies documenting how the decline of manufacturing, the
    suburbanization of jobs, and the rise of low-wage
    service employment eliminated high-paying jobs
    for manual workers, drove up rates of black male
    unemployment, and reduced the attractiveness of
    marriage to black women, thereby contributing
    to a proliferation of female-headed families and
    persistent poverty. See Mitchell L. Eggers and
    Douglas S. Massey, “The Structural Determinants of Urban Poverty,” Social Science Research
    20 (1991): 217–55; Mitchell L. Eggers and Douglas S. Massey, “A Longitudinal Analysis of
    Urban Poverty: Blacks in U.S. Metropolitan
    Areas between 1970 and 1980,” Social Science Research 21 (1992): 175–203.
    28. The evidence on the extent of middleclass out-migration from ghetto areas is inconclusive. Because racial segregation does not
    decline with rising socioeconomic status, outmovement from poor black neighborhoods certainly has not been to white areas. When
    Kathryn P. Nelson measured rates of black outmigration from local “zones” within forty metropolitan areas, however, she found higher rates of
    out-movement for middle- and upper-class
    blacks compared with poor blacks; but her
    “zones” contained more than 100,000 inhabitants, making them considerably larger than
    neighborhoods (see “Racial Segregation, Mobility, and Poverty Concentration,” paper presented
    at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, Washington, D.C., March
    19–23, 1991). In contrast, Edward Gramlich
    and Deborah Laren found that poor and middleclass blacks displayed about the same likelihood
    of out-migration from poor census tracts (see
    “Geographic Mobility and Persistent Poverty,”
    Department of Economics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1990).
    29. See Eggers and Massey, “A Longitudinal
    Analysis of Urban Poverty.”
    30. See International Defense and Aid Fund
    for Southern Africa, Apartheid: The Facts (London: United Nations Centre against Apartheid,
    1983), pp. 15–26.
    31. We are not the first to notice the striking
    parallel between the institutionalized system of
    racial segregation in U.S. cities and the organized, state-sponsored system of racial repression in South Africa. See John H. Denton,
    Apartheid American Style (Berkeley, Calif.: Diablo Press, 1967); James A. Kushner, “Apartheid
    in America: An Historical and Legal Analysis of
    Contemporary Racial Residential Segregation in
    the United States,” Howard Law Journal 22
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    property of Perseus Books Group and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a
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    the economy
    coming up in Dædalus:
    Robert M. Solow, Benjamin M. Friedman, Lucian A. Bebchuk, Luigi
    Zingales, Edward L. Glaeser, C.A.E. Goodhart, Barry Eichengreen,
    Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, Thomas Romer, Howard Rosenthal,
    Peter Temin, Jeremy C. Stein, Robert E. Hall, and others
    Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
    Summer 2010
    race, inequality
    & culture
    Gerald Early, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Glenda R. Carpio, David A.
    Hollinger, Jeffrey B. Ferguson, Hua Hsu, Daniel Geary, Lawrence
    Jackson, Farah Grif½n, Korina Jocson, Eric Sundquist, Waldo Martin,
    Werner Sollors, James Alan McPherson, Robert O’Meally, Jeffrey B.
    Perry, Clarence Walker, Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Tommie Shelby, and
    Lawrence D. Bobo, William Julius Wilson, Michael Klarman, Rogers
    Smith, Douglas Massey, Jennifer Hochschild, Martha Biondi, Roland
    Fryer, Cathy Cohen, James Heckman, Taeku Lee, Pap Ndiaye, Alford
    Young, Marcyliena Morgan, Richard Nisbett, Jennifer Richeson,
    Daniel Sabbagh, Roger Waldinger, and others
    on mass
    Glenn C. Loury
    & Bruce Western
    Bruce Western
    & Becky Pettit
    Robert J. Sampson
    & Charles Loeffler
    Candace Kruttschnitt
    Jeffrey Fagan
    Introduction 5
    Incarceration & social inequality 8
    Punishment’s place: the local concentration
    of mass incarceration 20
    The paradox of women’s imprisonment 32
    The contradictions of juvenile crime
    & punishment 43
    Marie Gottschalk
    Cell blocks & red ink: mass incarceration,
    the great recession & penal reform 62
    Loïc Wacquant
    Class, race & hyperincarceration in
    revanchist America 74
    Jonathan Simon
    Clearing the “troubled assets” of America’s
    punishment bubble 91
    Nicola Lacey
    American imprisonment in comparative
    perspective 102
    Mark A.R. Kleiman
    Robert Weisberg
    & Joan Petersilia
    Glenn C. Loury
    Toward fewer prisoners & less crime 115
    The dangers of Pyrrhic victories
    against mass incarceration 124
    Crime, inequality & social justice 134
    Etheridge Knight
    A Wasp Woman Visits a Black Junkie
    in Prison 141
    Lucille Clifton
    cruelty. don’t talk to me about cruelty
    & what spells raccoon to me 143
    U.S. $13;
    plus the modern American military, protecting the Internet as a
    public commons, public opinion &c.
    Summer 2010: on mass incarceration
    the meaning of
    Bruce Western & Becky Pettit
    Incarceration & social inequality
    n the last few decades, the institutional contours of American social inequality have been transformed by the rapid
    growth in the prison and jail population.1
    America’s prisons and jails have produced a new social group, a group of
    social outcasts who are joined by the
    shared experience of incarceration,
    crime, poverty, racial minority, and
    low education. As an outcast group,
    the men and women in our penal institutions have little access to the social
    mobility available to the mainstream.
    Social and economic disadvantage,
    crystallizing in penal con½nement,
    is sustained over the life course and
    transmitted from one generation to
    the next. This is a profound institutionalized inequality that has renewed
    race and class disadvantage. Yet the
    scale and empirical details tell a story
    that is largely unknown.
    Though the rate of incarceration is
    historically high, perhaps the most important social fact is the inequality in
    penal con½nement. This inequality produces extraordinary rates of incarceration among young African American
    men with no more than a high school
    education. For these young men, born
    © 2010 by the American Academy of Arts
    & Sciences
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    since the mid-1970s, serving time in
    prison has become a normal life event.
    The influence of the penal system on
    social and economic disadvantage can
    be seen in the economic and family lives
    of the formerly incarcerated. The social
    inequality produced by mass incarceration is sizable and enduring for three
    main reasons: it is invisible, it is cumulative, and it is intergenerational. The
    inequality is invisible in the sense that
    institutionalized populations commonly
    lie outside our of½cial accounts of economic well-being. Prisoners, though
    drawn from the lowest rungs in society,
    appear in no measures of poverty or unemployment. As a result, the full extent
    of the disadvantage of groups with high
    incarceration rates is underestimated.
    The inequality is cumulative because the
    social and economic penalties that flow
    from incarceration are accrued by those
    who already have the weakest economic
    opportunities. Mass incarceration thus
    deepens disadvantage and forecloses
    mobility for the most marginal in society. Finally, carceral inequalities are intergenerational, affecting not just those
    who go to prison and jail but their families and children, too.
    The scale of incarceration is measured
    by a rate that records the fraction of the
    population in prison or jail on an average day. From 1980 to 2008, the U.S. incarceration rate climbed from 221 to
    762 per 100,000. In the previous ½ve decades, from the 1920s through the mid1970s, the scale of punishment in America had been stable at around 100 per
    100,000. Though the incarceration rate
    is now nearly eight times its historic
    average, the scale of punishment today
    gains its social force from its unequal
    Like criminal activity, prisons and
    jails are overwhelmingly a male affair.
    Men account for 90 percent of the prison population and a similar proportion of those in local jails. The incarceration rate has been growing faster
    among women in recent decades, but
    the social impact of mass incarceration
    lies in the gross asymmetry of community and family attachment. Women remain in their communities raising children, while men confront the possibility of separation through incarceration.2
    Age intensi½es these effects: incarceration rates are highest for those in their
    twenties and early thirties. These are
    key years in the life course, when most
    men are establishing a pathway through
    adulthood by leaving school, getting a
    job, and starting a family. These years of
    early adulthood are important not just
    for a man’s life trajectory, but also for
    the family and children that he helps
    Age and sex are the staples of demographic analysis, and the relative youth
    of the largely male incarcerated population foreshadows much about the effects
    of mass incarceration. Still, it is the profound race and class disparities in incarceration that produce the new class of
    social outsiders. African Americans have
    always been incarcerated at higher rates
    than whites, at least since statistics were
    available from the late nineteenth centu-
    ry. The extent of racial disparity, however, has varied greatly over the past
    century, following a roughly inverse
    relationship to the slow incorporation
    of African Americans as full citizens in
    American society. In the late nineteenth
    century, U.S. Census data show that the
    incarceration rate among African Americans was roughly twice that of whites.
    The demographic erosion of Jim Crow
    through the migration of Southern African Americans to the North increased
    racial disparity in incarceration through
    the ½rst half of the twentieth century.
    (Racial disparities in incarceration have
    always been higher in the North than
    the South.) By the late 1960s, at the zenith of civil rights activism, the racial
    disparity had climbed to its contemporary level, leaving African Americans
    seven times more likely to be in prison
    or jail than whites.
    Class inequalities in incarceration are
    reflected in the very low educational level of those in prison and jail. The legitimate labor market opportunities for men
    with no more than a high school education have deteriorated as the prison population has grown, and prisoners themselves are drawn overwhelmingly from
    the least educated. State prisoners average just a tenth grade education, and
    about 70 percent have no high school
    Disparities of race, class, gender, and
    age have produced extraordinary rates
    of incarceration among young African
    American men with little schooling. Figure 1 shows prison and jail incarceration rates for men under age thirty-½ve
    in 1980, at the beginning of the prison
    boom, and in 2008, after three decades
    of rising incarceration rates. The ½gure
    reports incarceration separately for
    whites, Latinos, and African Americans
    and separately for three levels of education. Looking at men with a college eduDædalus Summer 2010
    Incarceration &
    Figure 1
    Western & Percentage of Men Aged Twenty to Thirty-Four in Prison or Jail, by Race/Ethnicity and EducaBecky Pettit tion, 1980 and 2008
    on mass
    Source: Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes, and Bruce Western, “Technical Report on Revised Population Estimates
    and nlsy79 Analysis Tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project” (Harvard University, 2009).
    cation, we see that incarceration rates
    today have barely increased since 1980.
    Incarceration rates have increased among
    African Americans and whites who have
    completed high school. Among young
    African American men with high school
    diplomas, about one in ten is in prison
    or jail.
    Most of the growth in incarceration
    rates is concentrated at the very bottom,
    among young men with very low levels of education. In 1980, around 10 percent of young African American men
    who dropped out of high school were in
    prison or jail. By 2008, this incarceration
    rate had climbed to 37 percent, an astonishing level of institutionalization given
    that the average incarceration rate in the
    general population was 0.76 of 1 percent.
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    Even among young white dropouts, the
    incarceration rate had grown remarkably,
    with around one in eight behind bars by
    2008. The signi½cant growth of incarceration rates among the least educated reflects increasing class inequality in incarceration through the period of the
    prison boom.
    These incarceration rates provide
    only a snapshot at a point in time. We
    can also examine the lifetime chance
    of incarceration–that is, the chance
    that someone will go to prison at some
    point in his or her life. This cumulative
    risk of incarceration is important if serving time in prison confers an enduring
    status that affects life chances after returning to free society. The lifetime risk
    of imprisonment describes how many
    Table 1
    Cumulative Risk of Imprisonment by Age Thirty to Thirty-Four for Men Born from 1945 to 1949
    and 1975 to 1979, by Educational Attainment and Race/Ethnicity
    High School
    High School/
    Incarceration &
    1945–1949 cohort
    1975–1979 cohort
    *Denotes completed high school or equivalency.
    Source: Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes, and Bruce Western, “Technical Report on Revised Population Estimates
    and nlsy79 Analysis Tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project” (Harvard University, 2009).
    people are at risk of these diminished
    life chances.
    We calculated the cumulative chance
    of imprisonment for two birth cohorts,
    one born just after World War II, from
    1945 to 1949, and another born from 1975
    to 1979 (Table 1). For each cohort, we
    calculated the chances of imprisonment,
    not jail incarceration. Prisons are the
    deep end of the criminal justice system,
    now incarcerating people for an average
    of twenty-eight months for a felony conviction. While there are about ten million admissions to local jails each year–
    for those awaiting trial or serving short
    sentences–around seven hundred thousand prisoners are now admitted annually to state and federal facilities.
    These cumulative chances of imprisonment are calculated up to age thirtyfour. For most of the population, this
    represents the lifetime likelihood of
    serving prison time. For the older postwar cohort who reached their mid-thir-
    ties at the end of the 1970s, about one
    in ten African American men served
    time in prison. For the younger cohort
    born from 1975 to 1979, the lifetime risk
    of imprisonment for African American
    men had increased to one in four. Prison time has become a normal life event
    for African American men who have
    dropped out of high school. Fully 68
    percent of these men born since the
    mid-1970s have prison records. The
    high rate of incarceration has redrawn
    the pathway through young adulthood.
    The main sources of upward mobility
    for African American men–namely,
    military service and a college degree–
    are signi½cantly less common than a
    prison record. For the ½rst generations
    growing up in the post–civil rights era,
    the prison now looms as a signi½cant
    institutional influence on life chances.
    The ubiquity of penal con½nement in
    the lives of young African American men
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    Western &
    Becky Pettit
    on mass
    with little schooling is historically novel,
    emerging only in the last decade. However, this new reality is only half the story of understanding the signi½cance of
    mass incarceration in America. The other half of the story concerns the effects
    of incarceration on social and economic
    inequality. The inequalities produced by
    contemporary patterns of incarceration
    have three characteristics: the inequalities associated with incarceration are
    invisible to our usual accounting of the
    economic well-being of the population;
    the inequality is cumulative, deepening
    the disadvantage of the most marginal
    men in society; and ½nally, the inequality is intergenerational, transmitting the
    penalties of a prison record from one
    generation to the next. Because the characteristic inequalities produced by the
    American prison boom are invisible, cumulative, and intergenerational, they are
    extremely enduring, sustained over lifetimes and passed through families.
    Invisible Inequality. The inequality created by incarceration is often invisible
    to the mainstream of society because incarceration is concentrated and segregative. We have seen that steep racial and
    class disparities in incarceration have
    produced a generation of social outliers
    whose collective experience is wholly
    different from the rest of American society. The extreme concentration of incarceration rates is compounded by the
    obviously segregative function of the penal system, which often relocates people
    to far-flung facilities distant from their
    communities and families. As a result,
    people in prison and jail are disconnected from the basic institutions–households and the labor market–that dominate our common understanding and
    measurement of the population. The
    segregation and social concentration
    of incarceration thus help conceal its
    effects. This fact is particularly imporDædalus Summer 2010
    tant for public policy because in assessing the social and economic well-being
    of the population, the incarcerated fraction is frequently overlooked, and inequality is underestimated as a result.
    The idea of invisible inequality is illustrated by considering employment
    rates as they are conventionally measured by the Current Population Survey, the large monthly labor force survey conducted by the Census Bureau.
    For groups that are weakly attached to
    the labor market, like young men with
    little education, economic status is often
    measured by the employment-to-population ratio. This ½gure, more expansive
    than the unemployment rate, counts as
    jobless those who have dropped out of
    the labor market altogether. The Current
    Population Survey is drawn on a sample
    of households, so those who are institutionalized are not included in the surveybased description of the population.
    Figure 2 shows the employment-topopulation ratio for African American
    men under age thirty-½ve who have
    not completed high school. Conventional estimates of the employment
    rate show that by 2008, around 40 percent of African American male dropouts were employed. These estimates,
    based on the household survey, fail to
    count that part of the population in
    prison or jail. Once prison and jail inmates are included in the population
    count (and among the jobless), we see
    that employment among young African American men with little schooling fell to around 25 percent by 2008.
    Indeed, by 2008 these men were more
    likely to be locked up than employed.
    Cumulative Inequality. Serving time
    in prison or jail diminishes social and
    economic opportunities. As we have
    seen, these diminished opportunities
    are found among those already most
    socioeconomically disadvantaged. A
    Figure 2
    Employment to Population Ratio, African American Men Aged Twenty to Thirty-Four with Less
    than Twelve Years of Schooling, 1980 to 2008
    Incarceration &
    Source: Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes, and Bruce Western, “Technical Report on Revised Population Estimates
    and nlsy79 Analysis Tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project” (Harvard University, 2009).
    burgeoning research literature examining the economic effects of incarceration ½nds that incarceration is associated with reduced earnings and employment.4
    We analyzed panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth
    (nlsy), one of the few surveys that follows respondents over a long period of
    time and that interviews incarcerated
    respondents in prison. The nlsy began
    in 1979, when its panel of respondents
    was aged fourteen to twenty-one; it completed its latest round of interviews in
    2006. Matching our population estimates
    of incarceration, one in ½ve African
    American male respondents in the nlsy
    has been interviewed at some point between 1979 and 2006 while incarcerated,
    compared to 5 percent of whites and 12
    percent of Latino respondents. Analysis
    of the nlsy showed that serving time in
    prison was associated with a 40 percent
    reduction in earnings and with reduced
    job tenure, reduced hourly wages, and
    higher unemployment.
    The negative effects of incarceration,
    even among men with very poor economic opportunities to begin with, are
    related to the strong negative perceptions employers have of job seekers with
    criminal records. Devah Pager’s experimental research has studied these employer perceptions by sending pairs of
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    Western &
    Becky Pettit
    on mass
    fake job seekers to apply for real jobs.5
    In each pair, one of the job applicants
    was randomly assigned a résumé indicating a criminal record (a parole of½cer
    is listed as a reference), and the “criminal” applicant was instructed to check
    the box on the job application indicating he had a criminal record. A criminal
    record was found to reduce callbacks
    from prospective employers by around
    50 percent, an effect that was larger for
    African Americans than for whites.
    Incarceration may reduce economic
    opportunities in several ways. The conditions of imprisonment may promote
    habits and behaviors that are poorly suited to the routines of regular work. Time
    in prison means time out of the labor
    force, depleting the work experience of
    the incarcerated compared to their nonincarcerated counterparts. The stigma of
    a criminal conviction may also repel employers who prefer job applicants with
    clean records. Pager’s audit study offers
    clear evidence for the negative effects of
    criminal stigma. Employers, fearing legal liability or even just unreliability, are
    extremely reluctant to hire workers with
    criminal convictions.
    A simple picture of the poor economic
    opportunities of the formerly incarcerated is given by the earnings mobility of
    men going to prison compared to other
    disadvantaged groups. The nlsy data
    can be used to study earnings mobility
    over several decades. We calculated the
    chances that a poor man in the lowest
    ½fth of the earnings distribution in 1986
    would move up and out of the lowest
    ½fth by 2006. Among low-income men
    who are not incarcerated, nearly twothirds are upwardly mobile by 2006 (Figure 3). Another group in the nlsy has
    very low levels of cognitive ability, scoring in the bottom quintile of the Armed
    Forces Qualifying Test, the standardized
    test used for military service. Among
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    low-income men with low scores on the
    test, only 41 percent are upwardly mobile.
    Upward mobility is even less common
    among low-income high school dropouts.
    Still, we observe the least mobility of all
    among men who were incarcerated at
    some point between 1986 and 2006. For
    these men, only one in four rises out of
    the bottom quintile of the earnings distribution.
    Intergenerational Inequality. Finally, the
    effects of the prison boom extend also
    to the families of those who are incarcerated. Through the prism of research
    on poverty, scholars ½nd that the family life of the disadvantaged has become
    dramatically more complex and unstable over the last few decades. Divorce
    and nonmarital births have contributed
    signi½cantly to rising rates of single parenthood, and these changes in American
    family structure are concentrated among
    low-income mothers. As a consequence,
    poor children regularly grow up, at least
    for a time, with a single mother and, at
    different times, with a variety of adult
    males in their households.
    High rates of parental incarceration
    likely add to the instability of family
    life among poor children. Over half of
    all prisoners have children under the
    age of eighteen, and about 45 percent
    of those parents were living with their
    children at the time they were sent to
    prison. About two-thirds of prisoners
    stay in regular contact with their children either by phone, mail, or visitation.6 Ethnographer Megan Comfort
    paints a vivid picture of the effects of
    men’s incarceration on the women
    and families in their lives. She quotes
    a prisoner at San Quentin State Prison
    in California:
    Nine times out of ten it’s the woman
    [maintaining contact with prisoners].
    Why? Because your homeboys, or your
    Figure 3
    Twenty-Year Earnings Mobility among Men in the Bottom Quintile of Earnings Distribution
    in 1986, National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (nlsy) Men
    Incarceration &
    afqt stands for Armed Forces Qualifying Test.
    Source: Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes, and Bruce Western, “Technical Report on Revised Population Estimates
    and nlsy79 Analysis Tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project” (Harvard University, 2009).
    friends, if you’re in that lifestyle, most
    the time they’re gonna be sittin’ right
    next to your ass in prison. . . . The males,
    they don’t really participate like a lot
    of females in the lives of the incarcerated. . . . They don’t deal with it, like ½rst
    of all they don’t like to bring to reality
    that you’re in prison; they don’t wanna
    think about that . . . Or some of ’em just
    don’t care. So the male’s kinda like wiped
    out of there, so that puts all the burden on
    the woman.7
    Partly because of the burdens of incarceration on women who are left to
    raise families in free society, incarceration is strongly associated with divorce
    and separation. In addition to the forced
    separation of incarceration, the postrelease effects on economic opportuni-
    ties leave formerly incarcerated parents
    less equipped to provide ½nancially for
    their children. New research also shows
    that the children of incarcerated parents,
    particularly the boys, are at greater risk
    of developmental delays and behavioral
    Against this evidence for the negative
    effects of incarceration, we should weigh
    the gains to public safety obtained by
    separating violent or otherwise antisocial men from their children and partners. Domestic violence is much more
    common among the formerly incarcerated compared to other disadvantaged
    men. Survey data indicate that formerly
    incarcerated men are about four times
    more likely to assault their domestic partners than men who have never been incarcerated. Though the relative risk is
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    Western &
    Becky Pettit
    on mass
    very high, around 90 percent of the partners of formerly incarcerated report no
    domestic violence at all.
    The scale of the effects of parental incarceration on children can be revealed
    simply by statistics showing the number
    of children with a parent in prison or
    jail. Among white children in 1980, only
    0.4 of 1 percent had an incarcerated parent; by 2008 this ½gure had increased to
    1.75 percent. Rates of parental incarceration are roughly double among Latino
    children, with 3.5 percent of children having a parent locked up by 2008. Among
    African American children, 1.2 million,
    or about 11 percent, had a parent incarcerated by 2008 (Figure 4).
    The spectacular growth in the Ameri-
    can penal system over the last three decades was concentrated in a small segment of the population, among young
    minority men with very low levels of education. By the early 2000s, prison time
    was a common life event for this group,
    and today more than two-thirds of African American male dropouts are expected to serve time in state or federal prison. These demographic contours of mass
    imprisonment have created a new class
    of social outsiders whose relationship to
    the state and society is wholly different
    from the rest of the population.
    Social marginality is deepened by the
    inequalities produced by incarceration.
    Workers with prison records experience
    signi½cant declines in earnings and employment. Parents in prison are likely to
    divorce or separate, and through the contagious effects of the institution, their
    children are in some degree “prisonized,”
    exposed to the routines of prison life
    through visitation and the parole supervision of their parents. Yet much of this
    reality remains hidden from view. In social life, for all but those whose incarceration rates are highest, prisons are exotic
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    institutions unknown to the social mainstream. Our national data systems, and
    the social facts they produce, are structured around normative domestic and
    economic life, systematically excluding
    prison inmates.
    Thus we de½ne carceral inequalities
    as invisible, cumulative, and intergenerational. Because they are so deeply concentrated in a small disadvantaged fraction of the population, the social and
    economic effects of incarceration create
    a discrete social group whose collective
    experience is so distinctive yet unknown
    that their disadvantage remains largely
    beyond the apprehension of public policy or public conversation. The redrawing of American social inequality by mass
    incarceration amounts to a contraction
    of citizenship–a contraction of that population that enjoys, in T. H. Marshall’s
    words, “full membership in society.”9
    Inequality of this kind threatens to be
    self-sustaining. Socioeconomic disadvantage, crime, and incarceration in the
    current generation undermine the stability of family life and material support
    for children. As adults, these children
    will be at greater risk of diminished life
    chances and criminal involvement, and
    at greater risk of incarceration as a result.
    Skeptics will respond that these are
    false issues of social justice: the prison boom substantially reduced crime,
    and criminals should forfeit their societal membership in any case. The crimereducing effects of incarceration are
    hotly debated, however. Empirical estimates of the effects of incarceration on
    crime vary widely, and often they turn
    on assumptions that are dif½cult to test
    directly. Researchers have focused on
    the sharp decline in U.S. crime rates
    through the 1990s, studying the influence of rising prison populations. Conservative estimates attribute about onetenth of the 1990s crime decline to the
    Figure 4
    Number of Children under Eighteen with a Parent in Prison or Jail, 1980 to 2008
    Incarceration &
    Source: Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes, and Bruce Western, “Technical Report on Revised Population Estimates
    and nlsy79 Analysis Tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project” (Harvard University, 2009).
    growth in imprisonment rates.10 Though
    the precise impact of incarceration on
    crime is uncertain, there is broad agreement that additional imprisonment at
    high rates of incarceration does little
    to reduce crime. The possibility of improved public safety through increased
    incarceration is by now exhausted.
    Studies of the effects of incarceration
    on crime also focus only on the short
    term. Indeed, because of the negative
    effects of incarceration on economic
    opportunities and family life, incarceration contributes to crime in the long
    run by adding to idleness and family
    breakdown among released prisoners.
    Scale matters, too. If the negative effects of incarceration were scattered
    among a small number of serious criminal offenders, these effects may well
    be overwhelmed by reduction in crime
    through incapacitation.
    Today, however, clear majorities of
    the young men in poor communities are
    going to prison and returning home less
    employable and more detached from
    their families. In this situation, the institutions charged with public safety have
    become vitally implicated in the unemployment and the fragile family structure
    characteristic of high-crime communities. For poorly educated young men in
    high-incarceration communities, a prison record now carries little stigma; incentives to commit to the labor market and
    family life have been seriously weakened.
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    Western &
    Becky Pettit
    on mass
    To say that prison reduces crime (perhaps only in the short run) is a spectacularly modest claim for a system that
    now costs $70 billion annually. Claims
    for the crime-reducing effects of prison, by themselves, provide little guidance for policy because other approaches may be cheaper. Measures to reduce
    school dropout, increase human capital, and generally increase employment among young men seem especially promising alternatives. Results for
    programs for very young children are
    particularly striking. Evaluations of
    early childhood educational programs
    show some of their largest bene½ts decades later in reduced delinquency and
    crime.11 For adult men now coming out
    of prison, new evaluations show that
    jobs programs reduce recidivism and increase employment and earnings.12 The
    demographic concentration of incarceration accompanies spatial concentration. If some portion of that $70 billion
    in correctional expenditures were spent
    on improving skills and reducing unemployment in poor neighborhoods, a sustainable and socially integrative public
    safety may be produced.
    Much of the political debate about
    crime policy ignores the contemporary
    scale of criminal punishment, its unequal distribution, and its negative social and economic effects. Our analysis
    of the penal system as an institution of
    social strati½cation, rather than crime
    control, highlights all these neglected
    outcomes and leaves us pessimistic that
    widespread incarceration can sustainably reduce crime. The current system
    is expensive, and it exacerbates the social problems it is charged with controlling. Our perspective, focused on the social and economic inequalities of American life, suggests that social policy improving opportunity and employment,
    for young men in particular, holds special promise as an instrument for public safety.
    Our perspective on inequality points
    to a broader view of public safety that
    is not produced by punishment alone.
    Robust public safety grows when people have order and predictability in
    their daily lives. Crime is just one danger, joining unemployment, poor health,
    and family instability along a spectrum
    of threats to an orderly life. Public safety is built as much on the everyday routines of work and family as it is on police and prisons. Any retrenchment of
    the penal system therefore must recognize how deeply the prison boom is embedded in the structure of American
    social inequality. Ameliorating these
    inequalities will be necessary to set us
    on a path away from mass incarceration and toward a robust, socially integrative public safety.
    1 We gratefully acknowledge Bryan Sykes, Deirdre Bloome, and Chris Muller, who helped
    conduct the research reported in this paper. This research was supported in part by a gift
    from The Elfenworks Foundation.
    2 In her essay for this issue, Candace Kruttschnitt shows that women’s incarceration has
    pronounced effects by separating mothers from their children. The continued growth of
    women’s incarceration rates threatens to have large effects on family life.
    3 Bruce Western, Punishment and Inequality in America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation,
    2006); Caroline Wolf Harlow, Education and Correctional Populations (Washington, D.C.:
    Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003).
    Dædalus Summer 2010
    4 Harry J. Holzer, “Collateral Costs: Effects of Incarceration on Employment and Earnings
    Among Young Workers,” in Do Prisons Make Us Safer? ed. Steven Raphael and Michael A.
    Stoll (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2009).
    5 Devah Pager, Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
    6 Christopher Mumola, “Incarcerated Parents and Their Children” (Washington, D.C.:
    Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).
    7 Megan Comfort, “In the Tube at San Quentin: The ‘Secondary Prisonization’ of Women
    Visiting Inmates,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 32 (1) (2003): 82; emphasis original.
    8 Christopher Wildeman, “Paternal Incarceration and Children’s Physically Aggressive Behaviors: Evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study,” working paper
    2008-02-FF (Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing, 2008).
    9 T. H. Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class (Concord, Mass.: Pluto Press, 1992).
    Incarceration &
    10 Western, Punishment and Inequality in America, chap. 7.
    11 Pedro Carneiro and James J. Heckman, “Human Capital Policy,” in James J. Heckman and
    Alan B. Krueger, Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policies? (Cambridge,
    Mass.: mit Press, 2003).
    12 Cindy Redcross, Dan Bloom, and Gilda Azurdia, “Transitional Jobs for Ex-prisoners: Implementation, Two-Year Impacts, and Costs of the Center for Employment Opportunities
    (ceo) Prisoner Reentry Program” (mdrc, 2009).
    Dædalus Summer 2010

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