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Crime, Punishment and Poverty in the United States

Author

Listed:
  • Ian Irvine
  • Kuan Xu

    () (Department of Economics, Concordia University
    Department of Economics, Dalhousie University)

Abstract

The rate of incarceration has increased dramatically in the U.S. since 1980. This is attributable to a higher rate of sentencing per crime committed and to an increased prevalence of drug-related crime. We explore the implications of this increased incarceration on national poverty measurement using micro data for the period 1979--1997. We make use of an as-yet unexplored data set on prisoner earnings, in conjunction with the Luxembourg Income Surveys to compute earnings of the whole population. Sen's generalized measure of poverty is the poverty index we choose. This index encompasses the rate of poverty, the income gap of the poor, and the degree of inequality among the poor. It is found that the traditional measurement of poverty, which omits this increased share of the population that has become institutionalized, understates the true degree of poverty in the nineteen nineties to a significant degree. This underestimation has increased during the time period of study. Furthermore, it is the depth of poverty associated with the higher incarceration rate, rather than the higher rate of incarceration alone that has had the greatest impact upon poverty. These results stand in marked contrast to western European economies and Canada, which have not experienced such increases and whose levels of incarceration are a fraction of the U.S. level.

Suggested Citation

  • Ian Irvine & Kuan Xu, 2002. "Crime, Punishment and Poverty in the United States," Department of Economics at Dalhousie University working papers archive uspov, Dalhousie, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:dal:wparch:uspov
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    File URL: http://www.economics.dal.ca/RePEc/dal/wparch/uspov.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    incarceration; poverty; measurement; decomposition;

    JEL classification:

    • I30 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General
    • H00 - Public Economics - - General - - - General

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