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Crime, Punishment and Poverty in the United States

  • Ian Irvine
  • Kuan Xu


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

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.

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Paper provided by Dalhousie, Department of Economics in its series Department of Economics at Dalhousie University working papers archive with number uspov.

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Length: 44 pages
Date of creation: 24 Sep 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:dal:wparch:uspov
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  1. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & Jose A. Scheinkman, 1995. "Crime and Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 5026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. Osberg, L & Xu, K, 1997. "International Comparisons of Poverty Intensity : Index Decomposition and Bootstrap Inference," Department of Economics at Dalhousie University working papers archive 97-03, Dalhousie, Department of Economics.
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  10. Jeff Grogger, 1997. "Market Wages and Youth Crime," NBER Working Papers 5983, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Lars Osberg, 2000. "Poverty in Canada and the United States: measurement, trends, and implications," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 33(4), pages 847-877, November.
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  15. Silber, Jacques, 1989. "Factor Components, Population Subgroups and the Computation of the Gini Index of Inequality," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 71(1), pages 107-15, February.
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  21. Bishop, John A & Formby, John P & Zheng, Buhong, 1997. "Statistical Inference and the Sen Index of Poverty," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 38(2), pages 381-87, May.
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  24. Kuan Xu & Lars Osberg, 2000. "The Social Welfare Implications, Decomposability, and Geometry of the Sen Family of Poverty Indices," Department of Economics at Dalhousie University working papers archive sendeco, Dalhousie, Department of Economics.
  25. Clark, Stephen & Hemming, Richard & Ulph, David, 1981. "On Indices for the Measurement of Poverty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 91(362), pages 515-26, June.
  26. Thon, Dominique, 1979. "On Measuring Poverty," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 25(4), pages 429-39, December.
  27. James R. Hines Jr. & Hilary W. Hoynes & Alan B. Krueger, 2001. "Another Look at Whether a Rising Tide Lifts All Boats," NBER Working Papers 8412, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  28. Lambert, Peter J & Aronson, J Richard, 1993. "Inequality Decomposition Analysis and the Gini Coefficient Revisited," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 103(420), pages 1221-27, September.
  29. Zheng, Buhong, 1997. " Aggregate Poverty Measures," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(2), pages 123-62, June.
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