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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Jennifer Lundquist

Second Advisor

Sanjiv Gupta

Third Advisor

Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

Fourth Advisor

Fidan Kurtulus

Subject Categories

Demography, Population, and Ecology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Race and Ethnicity | Work, Economy and Organizations


U.S. incarceration since the 1980s is increasingly concentrated among black men, reinforcing their racial inequality in the labor market. However, less attention has been paid to the fact that the military, which provided employment, income and educational opportunities to black men disproportionately, has downsized at the same time during this same period. Mass incarceration has rarely been studied in relation to military downsizing. I seek to understand how prison and the military, two crucial but often-neglected labor market institutions, have jointly influenced racial inequality in the labor market over time along with other major institutions such as higher education and long-term unemployment. The simultaneous increase in mass incarceration and decrease in the military since 1980 has resulted in a crossover of the two populations of affiliated black men in the early 1990s. As a result of institutional change at the aggregate level, I argue that young black men, in particular, who enter the current labor market face different opportunity structures from those who entered the labor market in the early 1980s. This military-penal crossover has reinforced racial inequality in the labor market, with blacks experiencing more incarceration while decreasingly enlisting in the military now than before. In the dissertation, I answer the following three questions: (1) Who enters into which institution and how are the selection process is different across race? (2) What are the consequences of the simultaneous shift of mass incarceration and military downsizing on black men’s mobility? (3) What are their subsequent labor market trajectories after military service and incarceration and how are the trajectories different for blacks and whites? This research contributes to the current literature by revealing how these traditionally unrecognized labor market institutions have shaped unequal paths for blacks and for whites.