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Young and Incarcerated

​Americans who are younger than 26 today are more likely to be arrested than Americans born in previous decades, according to a RAND Corporation study, The Long-Term Economic Impact of Criminalization in American Childhoods​. Twenty-three percent of Americans born between 1979 and 1988 were arrested before turning 26, compared to only 10.7 percent of those born between 1949 and 1958. 

The rising rate of arrests and convictions—occurring most rapidly among white Americans and women—is associated with lower probabilities of being married, fewer weeks worked, lower hourly wages, and lower family incomes during Americans’ adulthood. The findings are based on a 50-year survey of 5,000 American families, representative of 95 percent of the American population (excluding career criminals). 

Rates of arrests, multiple arrests, and convictions quickly rose over time for all ethnic and gender groups, and the arrest rate for white men increased nearly three-fold in recent decades. 

“Increased enforcement is likely a critical driver of this trend,” said James P. Smith, author of the study and distinguished chair in labor markets and demographic studies at RAND. “The evidence suggests that the growing criminalization of American youth is increasingly affecting all races and genders.” 

People arrested only once during childhood averaged about $6,000 less in annual earning as adults; people with violence or drug arrests averaged about $11,000 less in annual earnings, the report said.