The formerly incarcerated are not only affected socially and emotionally by their imprisonment, but they also pay financially. Although they may be entrusted with a job, and their job descriptions and titles may be similar to that of their counterparts, research indicates that formerly incarcerated people earn hourly wages that are 11% lower and work 12% fewer hours than similar persons without a record. In addition, formerly incarcerated individuals are often subjected to substantial wage and employment penalties compared to those without a criminal record. Considering that 70 million people in the United States have some sort of record, and another 700,000 people are said to return to the community from incarceration annually, the estimated earning loss of 10-40% for formerly incarcerated people can be devastating to many communities and the U.S. economy as a whole.

The earning and employment gap between white men and African American men regardless of education has never been larger, especially if formerly incarcerated. It is estimated that people with criminal records earn 10-20% less than those with equivalent education backgrounds and levels of experience. A comparative study conducted in Philadelphia as early as 2011 clearly substantiates the disparity between estimated annual earnings for employed Philadelphians and formerly incarcerated individuals. The research found that among residents and the formerly incarcerated with no high school diploma, there was a difference in annual earnings of approximately $2,000.00 more for residents without a conviction. In addition, Philadelphians who had a Bachelor’s Degree earned approximately $9,000.00 more than their formerly incarcerated counterparts. This research indicates that the higher the education level, the wider the gap in annual earnings between people with, and without, criminal records.

Wage inequality was said to increase in the 1980s and 1990s as a result of the prison boom. The wage inequality and decline was not just significant among men with little education, but also among African Americans and Latinos. A New Jersey study, “Incarceration and its Effect on Lifetime Wage Growth,” reinforces that there is race-based wage inequality between the formerly incarcerated and those who were never incarcerated. The study found that among the formerly incarcerated population, African Americans earned an hourly wage of $9.75- $10.50. Latinos had the lowest hourly rate by race at $9.25-$9.50. However, among formerly incarcerated white people, the hourly earnings were significantly higher when compared to African Americans and Latinos. They earned between $10.75 and $10.95 an hour. Moreover, whites who were never incarcerated had a greater earning power per hour at $11.25-$13.95 an hour. Their African American and Latino counterparts who were never incarcerated earned $10.75-$12.25 and $10.95-13.00, respectively. These statistics are reminders that race-based inequality does exist between the formerly incarcerated and their counterparts.

Wage equality should not be a luxury, but a basic human right for everyone despite their racial background or criminal record. If they are able to perform the duties for which they were hired, then they have the right to earn the same wages as their counterparts who were never incarcerated. We must make the negative effects of incarceration temporary, and as the millions of formerly incarcerated people return to society, strive to alleviate the unnecessary emotional, social, and financial stress they face by making wages equal.

Written by Wendy Mcspadden