About one third of all 30-year-old men who aren’t working are either in prison, in jail, or are unemployed ex-prisoners. Almost half of ex-prisoners have no reported earnings in the first several years after leaving prison; among those who do find work, half earn less than $10,090 a year or less than a full time job at minimum wage.

These are just a few of the sobering findings from a study of ex-prisoners in the U.S. by myself and the Federal Reserve Board’s Nicholas Turner. Using unique administrative data, we find that the labor market struggles of ex-prisoners start well before their incarceration. Most grew up in deep poverty and many weren’t working—or were earning very little—before incarceration. A disproportionate share grew up in racially segregated neighborhoods where child poverty rates were high, most parents were unmarried, and few men were employed.

Our findings reinforce what other research has illustrated — that poverty, race, and incarceration are interconnected. By addressing the challenges facing children born into poverty, we could reduce incarceration rates and improve labor market outcomes. Given the strong relationship between childhood conditions and later incarceration, the best way to help ex-prisoners find good-paying jobs may be to turn our attention to the problems that start long before imprisonment. This could include focused policies that invest in children, fight racial discrimination and geographically concentrated poverty, and reform the criminal justice system.

Read the full article about the facts surrounding incarceration and work by Adam Looney at Brookings.