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The Plight of Young, Black Men Is Worse Than You Think

Inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York
Inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New YorkPhotograph by Mike Groll/AP Photo

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any wealthy nation, with about 2.3 million people behind bars at any given moment. (That’s 730 out of 100,000, vs. just 154 for England and Wales.) There are more people in U.S. prisons than are in the country’s active-duty military. That much is well known. What’s less known is that people who are incarcerated are excluded from most surveys by U.S. statistical agencies. Since young, black men are disproportionately likely to be in jail or prison, the exclusion of penal institutions from the statistics makes the jobs situation of young, black men look better than it really is.

That’s the point of a new book, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress, by Becky Pettit, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington. Pettit spoke on Thursday in a telephone press conference.