Dismantling the Digital Poorhouse

New America

01/24/2018 - 16:00 to 17:30

“Our national journey from the county poorhouse of the nineteenth century to the digital poorhouse today reveals a remarkably durable debate between those who wish to eliminate and alleviate poverty and those who blame, imprison, and punish the poor.”

Today, automated systems control which neighborhoods get policed, which families obtain needed resources, and who is investigated for fraud. While we all live under this new regime of data analytics, the most invasive and punitive systems are aimed at the poor. 

As Virginia Eubanks documents in her new book, Automating Inequality, you can be deprioritized for homeless services in Los Angeles because an algorithm determines you’re not among the most vulnerable people living on the street. In Indiana, you may have been cut off of medical benefits for missing a single signature on one of a dozen forms, prompting an automated eligibility system to declare that you “failed to cooperate.” In Pittsburgh, a predictive risk model may score your child at high risk for abuse or neglect because you receive public assistance. 

While artificial intelligence, big data, and predictive analytics certainly have a role to play in fair, transparent, and accountable governance, these high-tech tools are shaped by our fear of economic precarity and our disdain for the poor. “Dismantling the Digital Poorhouse” brings together activists, organizers, journalists, scholars, and technologists to suggest another path. 

Please join New America’s Family-Centered Social Policy and Fellows programs for an urgent conversation laying bare our nation’s history of constructing the “digital poorhouse,” identifying its modern architecture--and exploring what we can collectively do to dismantle it. 



Virginia Eubanks@PopTechWorks 
Author, Automating Inequality 
Associate Professor of Political Science, University at Albany, SUNY 
Fellow, Class of 2016, New America

Rose Afriyie@rosesafriyie@mrelief_form 
Executive Director, mRelief 

Cheri Honkala@CheriHonkala 
National Organizer, The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign 

Mariella Saba 
Organizer/Researcher, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition- Our Data Bodies Project


Monica Potts@MonicaBPotts 
Freelance Writer 
Fellow, Class of 2016, New America

Copies of Automating Inequality will be available for purchase. 

This event will be livestreamed on this page. Follow the conversation online using #AutomatingInequality and following @NewAmericaFCSP

New America
740 15th St NW
Washingto , DC 20005