Pettit on the Prison Population, Survey Data and African-American Progress

I just listened to an excellent podcast:

Becky Pettit of the University of Washington and author of Invisible Men talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the growth of the prison population in the United States in recent decades. Pettit describes the magnitude of the increase particularly among demographic groups. She then discusses the implications of this increase for interpreting social statistics. Because the prison population isn’t included in the main government surveys used by social scientists, data drawn from those surveys can be misleading as to what is actually happening among demographic groups, particularly the African-American population.

Everybody basically expects to see statistical racism in the “justice” system, but some of the stats Pettit presents are still shocking – a young black high school drop-out is more likely to be imprisoned than employed!

Pettits ultimate conclusion is more chilling – prison inmates are typically uncounted in statistics measuring things like health, income, employment, etc.  The fact that so many young black men are imprisoned radically skews the statistics measuring the well-being of this demographic.