Does Criminal History Impact Labor Force Participation of Prime-Age Men?


  • Mary Ellsworth


This paper investigates the relationship between criminal background from youth and future labor force participation for prime-age men (25-54 years old) in the United States. Since January 1980, the percent of prime-age males not in the labor force has increased from 5.5% to 12.3%, which coincides with an increasing proportion of previously incarcerated prime-age men due to increased incarceration rates during the 1980s and 1990s. Previous studies have shown that supply-side factors, such as disability insurance or working spouses, do not account for most of the decline in prime-age male labor force participation. Using NLSY79 data, this study uses linear regression analysis and finds that criminal charges received at a young stage in life are associated with more weeks out of the labor force, even up to twenty-six years in the future. This suggests that a large number of previously incarcerated prime-age men may be dropping out of the labor force due to discouragement in finding work. Further research, however, is required to imply causality by assessing the extent to which men with criminal backgrounds would have struggled in the labor market regardless of conflict with the law due to lifestyle or personal attributes.