Algorithms, predictive models, regression analyses: all are tools for criminalizing the poor and immiserating the middle class.
In 2015, Eubanks (Political Science/Univ. at Albany, SUNY; Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age, 2011, etc.) writes by way of scene-setting, a series of computer-generated decisions cast doubt on a medical claim she was filing, flagging it as potential fraud. It took significant time and effort to clear her name, and she was a person with the education and standing needed to confront the system. Most Americans are not so well-equipped, and all face the same system, which removes ordinary decisions from human decision-makers and puts them in the purview of machines—as well as algorithms and rules that are largely intended to maximize the profits of the increasingly privatized providers of social services and to deny those in need of precisely those services in the first place. All Americans, from the poor to the wealthy, are implicated in this system. “We have all always lived in the world we built for the poor,” writes Eubanks, and thus should not be surprised when we are cast out when we become sick, disabled, elderly, or otherwise in need of the social safety net that so many politicians, at the national and state levels, are bent on removing. The author’s examination of the technological system underlying this dismantling is sobering. By her account, there seems to be little rhyme or reason to how cities such as Los Angeles determine who receives public housing, but there does seem to be a rationale behind Indiana’s propensity for losing welfare-related paperwork and thus denying “more than a million applications for food stamps, Medicaid, and cash benefits, a 54 percent increase compared to the three years prior to automation.”
Equal parts advocacy and analysis—a welcome addition to the growing literature around the politics of welfare.