Working for food stamps

Economic citizenship and the post-Fordist welfare state in New York City

by Maggie Dickinson

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In the United States, the number of people receiving state-subsidized food aid has risen dramatically since 2001. This increase complicates the well-worn story that the post-Fordist welfare state has been continuously cut back in the neoliberal era, indicating instead that it is expanding to subsidize poor workers’ participation in the formal labor market. In New York City, welfare office workers operationalize policies that ease access to food assistance for poor workers who can demonstrate that they are formally employed. Meanwhile, workfare programs punish the unemployed and marginal workers by making them work for food stamps. This conservative, paternalistic welfare regime commodifies labor, creates new patterns of stratification among the urban poor, and redraws the terms of economic citizenship.