Automating Inequality

Automating Inequality

How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

Virginia Eubanks

Excluded workers, single mothers, the elderly poor, the ill, and the disabled were forced to rely on what welfare historian Premilla Nadasen calls “mop-up” public assistance programs. 13 The distinctions between the unemployed and the poor, men’s poverty and women’s poverty, northern white male industrial laborers and everyone else created a two-tiered welfare state: social insurance versus public assistance. Public assistance programs were less generous because benefit levels were set by states and municipalities, not the federal government. They were more punitive because local and state welfare authorities wrote eligibility rules and had financial incentive to keep enrollments low. They were more intrusive because income limits and means-testing rationalized all manner of surveillance and policing of applicants and beneficiaries. In distinguishing between social insurance and public assistance, New Deal Democrats planted the seeds of today’s economic inequality, capitulated to white supremacy, sowed conflict between the poor and the working class, and devalued women’s work.

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