IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Degree of Disadvantage


  • Stephanie Ewert
  • Bryan L. Sykes
  • Becky Pettit


This article examines how the rise in incarceration and its disproportionate concentration among low-skill, young African American men influences estimates of educational attainment in the United States. We focus on high school graduation rates and the persistent gap in attainment that exists between young black and white Americans. Although official statistics show a declining racial gap in high school dropout in recent years, conventional data sources exclude the incarcerated population from sample data. We show how those exclusions underestimate the extent of racial inequality in high school graduation and underestimate the dropout rate among young black men by as much as 40 percent. America’s prisons and jails have become repositories for high school dropouts, thereby obscuring the degree of disadvantage faced by black men in the contemporary United States and the relative competitiveness of the U.S. workforce.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephanie Ewert & Bryan L. Sykes & Becky Pettit, 2014. "The Degree of Disadvantage," The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, , vol. 651(1), pages 24-43, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:anname:v:651:y:2014:i:1:p:24-43
    DOI: 10.1177/0002716213503100

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. McDonald, Michael P. & Popkin, Samuel L., 2001. "The Myth of the Vanishing Voter," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 95(4), pages 963-974, December.
    2. Baodong Liu & Sharon D. Wright Austin & Byron D'Andrá Orey, 2009. "Church Attendance, Social Capital, and Black Voting Participation," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 90(3), pages 576-592, September.
    3. Cameron, Stephen V & Heckman, James J, 1993. "The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(1), pages 1-47, January.
    4. Welch, Finis, 1990. "The Employment of Black Men," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages 26-74, January.
    5. James J. Heckman & Paul A. LaFontaine, 2010. "The American High School Graduation Rate: Trends and Levels," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(2), pages 244-262, May.
    6. William Darity, 1980. "Illusions of black economic progress," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 10(2), pages 153-168, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Pierre Lefebvre & Philip Merrigan, 2010. "Labour Outcomes of Graduates and Dropouts of High School and Post-secondary Education: Evidence for Canadian 24- to 26-year-olds in 2005," Cahiers de recherche 1045, CIRPEE.
    2. Fang, Xiangming & Tarui, Nori, 2015. "Child Maltreatment, Family Characteristics, and Educational Attainment: Evidence from Add Health Data," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205319, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    3. James J. Heckman & John Eric Humphries & Paul A. LaFontaine & Pedro L. Rodríguez, 2012. "Taking the Easy Way Out: How the GED Testing Program Induces Students to Drop Out," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(3), pages 495-520.
    4. Carolyn J. Heinrich & Huiping Cheng, 2022. "Does Online Credit Recovery in High School Support or Stymie Later Labor Market Success?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 41(4), pages 984-1011, September.
    5. Giuseppe Migali & Eugenio Zucchelli, 2014. "The relationship between forgone health care and high school dropout," Working Papers 71679142, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    6. Richard J. Murnane, 2013. "U.S. High School Graduation Rates: Patterns and Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(2), pages 370-422, June.
    7. Heckman, James J. & Humphries, John Eric & Mader, Nicholas S., 2011. "The GED," Handbook of the Economics of Education, in: Erik Hanushek & Stephen Machin & Ludger Woessmann (ed.), Handbook of the Economics of Education, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 9, pages 423-483, Elsevier.
      • Heckman, James J. & Humphries, John Eric & Mader, Nicholas S., 2010. "The GED," IZA Discussion Papers 4975, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
      • James J. Heckman & John Eric Humphries & Nicholas S. Mader, 2010. "The GED," NBER Working Papers 16064, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. James J. Heckman, 2008. "Schools, Skills, And Synapses," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 46(3), pages 289-324, July.
    9. Devah Pager, 2011. "Comment: Young Disadvantaged Men: Reactions from the Perspective of Race," The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, , vol. 635(1), pages 123-130, May.
    10. Martin Eckhoff Andresen & Sturla A. Løkken, 2019. "High school dropout for marginal students. Evidence from randomized exam form," Discussion Papers 894, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    11. Darolia, Rajeev & Mueser, Peter & Cronin, Jacob, 2021. "Labor market returns to a prison GED," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 82(C).
    12. McElroy, Susan Williams, 1996. "Early childbearing, high school completion, and college enrollment: Evidence from 1980 high school sophomores," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 15(3), pages 303-324, June.
    13. Anna Zajacova & Bethany G. Everett, 2014. "The Nonequivalent Health of High School Equivalents," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 95(1), pages 221-238, March.
    14. Anne McDaniel & Thomas DiPrete & Claudia Buchmann & Uri Shwed, 2011. "The Black Gender Gap in Educational Attainment: Historical Trends and Racial Comparisons," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 48(3), pages 889-914, August.
    15. Lawrence F. Katz, 1994. "Active labor market policies to expand employment and opportunity," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Jan, pages 239-322.
    16. Lex Borghans & Angela Lee Duckworth & James J. Heckman & Bas ter Weel, 2008. "The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(4).
    17. Melissa Clark & David Jaeger, 2006. "Natives, the foreign-born and high school equivalents: new evidence on the returns to the GED," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 19(4), pages 769-793, October.
    18. Duncan Chaplin & Martha Bleeker & Claire Smither, "undated". "Rigorous Evaluation of Roads to Success: Design Report," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 4d4b9caa05894ca0bdf33f632, Mathematica Policy Research.
    19. Gary Burtless, 2002. "Can Supply-Side policies Reduce unemployment? Lessons from North America," Australian Journal of Labour Economics (AJLE), Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC), Curtin Business School, vol. 5(2), pages 115-142, June.
    20. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Kathryn Parker Boudett, 1999. "Do Male Dropouts Benefit from Obtaining a GED, Postsecondary Education, and Training?," Evaluation Review, , vol. 23(5), pages 475-503, October.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sae:anname:v:651:y:2014:i:1:p:24-43. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: SAGE Publications (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.