How big data is helping states kick poor people off welfare

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Media Outlet: Vox

Virginia Eubanks was interviewed in Vox about her new book, Automating Inequality:

Technology is being used to target and punish poor people in America, according to a new book by Virginia Eubanks, a professor of political science at the University of Albany, SUNY.

Here’s one example: In 2014, Maine Gov. Paul LePage released data to the public detailing over 3,000 transactions from welfare recipients using EBT cards in the state. (EBT cards are like state-issued debit cards, and can be used to disperse benefits like food stamps.)

LePage created a list of every time this money had been used in a strip club, liquor store, or bar, and used it to push his political agenda of limiting access to state benefits. LePage’s list represents a tiny fraction of overall EBT withdrawals, but it effectively reinforced negative stereotypes and narratives about who relies on welfare benefits and why.


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Virginia Eubanks is a Class of 2016 & 2017 New America Fellow, who pursued a three-year research study into digital privacy, economic inequality and data-based discrimination.