THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW FRANCES FOX PIVEN E arly in 2011, the US Census Bureau reported that 14.3 per cent or 47 million people – 1 in 6 of Americans – were living below the ofﬁcial poverty threshold, currently set at $22,400 annually for a family of four. Some 19 million people are living in what is called extreme poverty, or on incomes below half the poverty line. More than a third of those extremely poor people are children. Indeed, over half the children younger than six living with a single mother are poor.1 Extrapolating from this data, Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution estimated that the poverty rate will increase to nearly 16 per cent by 2016, and the child poverty rate will increase to 26 per cent.2 No one will be surprised to learn that minorities are substantially overrepresented among the poor, but so are women.3 The situation of the poor in the United States is actually considerably worse than these numbers suggest. In the US, the ofﬁcial poverty line is an absolute measure of subsistence needs, simply three times the minimal food budget created in 1959, adjusted for inﬂation in food costs. This means that the poverty threshold takes no account of increases in tax, or housing, or fuel, or transportation, or healthcare costs, all of which are rising more rapidly than the costs of basic foods. So the poverty measure understates the basic costs of subsistence. Moreover, in 2006 interest payments on consumer debt put over 4 million people who were not ofﬁcially in poverty below the line, making them ‘debt poor’.4 Similarly, if childcare costs, estimated at over $5,000 a year in 2002, were deducted from gross income, many more people would be counted as ofﬁcially poor.5 Moreover the very idea of using a measure of absolute necessities should be questioned. Most countries measure poverty in relative terms, generally those below half the median income, thus taking into account the overall rise in living standards in the society in assessing the circumstances of those at the bottom. When comparable measures are used, the United States has far higher poverty rates than other rich countries.6 Indeed, poverty rates in the United States may match rates in some parts of the global South. New York THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW 109 City, the global centre of American neoliberalism, is also the international capital of ﬁnance, and its poverty rate is just under 20 per cent. The result is that ‘If New York City were a nation’, reports James Parrott, ‘its level of income concentration would rank 15th among 134 countries, between Chile and Honduras’. He adds that Wall Street is only 15 miles from the Bronx, the nation’s poorest urban county.7 High levels of poverty in the United States preceded the economic meltdown of 2007-09. Between 2001 and 2007, poverty actually increased for the ﬁrst time on record during an economic recovery, from 11.7 per cent in 2001 to 12.5 per cent in 2007.8 Poverty rates for single mothers in 2007 were 50 per cent, higher in the US than in 15 other high-income countries.9 Black employment rates and income were declining before the recession struck in 2007. And there is simply no evidence to support the familiar bromide that poverty in the US today is a temporary condition associated with youth or hard luck or economic crises. Preconceptions notwithstanding, the US is a low mobility society.10 That said, these trends worsened sharply with the onset of the Great Recession that began in 2007. The Economic Policy Institute reported that the typical working-age household, which had already seen a sharp decline of roughly $2300 in income from 2000 to 2006, saw another decline of $2700 from 2007 to 2009.11 Higher and mid-wage industries accounted for most of the job losses, while lower-wage industries accounted for nearly half of such growth as occurred in the uncertain recovery.12 Manufacturing contracted, and overall the labour market lost 6.1 per cent of payroll employment. New investment, when it occurred at all, was much more likely to be in machinery than in new workers, so unemployment levels remain alarmingly high.13 In other words, the recession accelerated ongoing market trends toward lower- wage and insecure employment.14 A decade ago it was widely thought that the next phase of welfare innovation would be something called ‘workfare’. Although workfare programs on the ground varied considerably, the basic idea was simply to make the receipt of welfare beneﬁts conditional on work by the recipient, sometimes work for wages, sometimes in exchange for a welfare check; sometimes the work was in the public sector, and sometimes for private employers. Jamie Peck studied these innovations as they were being developed in the US, Canada and Great Britain, and proposed that, local variations notwithstanding, the ‘policy orthodoxy of ﬂexibly deregulated labour markets now [had] a social policy analogue in the concerted advocacy of workfare programs’.15 But Peck was also keenly aware of the limits of workfare, which depended on buoyant labour markets. And in fact, the welfare-to-work policies did not become 110 SOCIALIST REGISTER 2012 dominant, just as in an earlier era the workhouse did not become dominant. Particularly in the United States, an older strategy of impoverishment and insult has prevailed, except that it has been imposed with particular vigour on women and minorities. REGULATING THE POOR In Regulating the Poor, Richard Cloward and I argued that the treatment of the poor in modernizing western societies could only be understood in relation to the problem of enforcing and regulating labour, a problem that became more salient as labour markets supplanted traditional and largely agricultural arrangements that had shackled people to the soil and the lord. Of course, for much of our history, the majority of working people were in fact poor. But we meant a stratum of people worse off than the main body of workers, and distinct from them in that they were also stripped of social respect. As traditional labour relations lost ground to markets, this was accomplished in signiﬁcant part by the creation of a new institution, a system of discipline and assistance usually called poor relief. The Webbs wrote of the widespread creation of relief systems in commercializing Europe as the development of ‘a new statecraft relative to destitution’.16 The inauguration of relief systems was usually provoked by outbreaks of disorder by people who were starving. But the management of relief over time was more importantly shaped by its role in disciplining workers. From its early beginnings, the new statecraft gave meagre assistance to those who turned to it, and the terms of that assistance were harsh. Just as important, those who turned to the parish or the county were subject to sustained rituals of public humiliation. That harsh treatment and especially the humiliation has always constituted a dramatic warning to the mass of working people trying to survive on their earnings. The practices of relief or the workhouse or welfare sent the message that there was a worse fate than low wage work, and that fate was to fall into abject poverty and become a pauper. Poverty and its institutionalized insults have been used to divide and terrify working people for centuries. It stands to reason that with the intensiﬁcation of labour exploitation in the neoliberal period, with shrinking wages, the spread of insecure and irregular work, and the escalation of the war against unions, that extreme poverty would also increase, and so would its uses as a social drama to intimidate workers who were still managing to stay aﬂoat. It also follows that the strategy would be boldest in the United States where other neoliberal labour policies were so aggressively promoted. But while there are striking continuities in the law and practice of poor relief across time and across borders, the institution has also been periodically THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW 111 overhauled, sometimes to take account of shorter-term problems of popular rebelliousness, and sometimes in reﬂection of deep-seated changes in labour markets. Recent developments in the United States suggest to me that the ancient institution of relief has been adapted to take account not only of the deteriorating terms of wage labour generally in a neoliberal era, but also of vast changes in the composition of the American labour market. These changes were historic. We talk a lot about the ‘race to the bottom’ resulting from the fact that American workers now compete with low- wage workers everywhere. But there have also been system-wide changes in the American labour market resulting from the massive incorporation of women, as well as the incorporation of previously agricultural African Americans and Latinos.17 I am arguing that poverty policy was reconstructed as a reaction to these developments. For a brief time during the more liberal period of welfare in the 1960s and 1970s, a good many single mothers had been permitted to live on the dole while their children were young, and even to live at levels not worse than low wage workers. The expansion of the imperative of wage labour to include women, as well as African-Americans and Latinos who had laboured in the agricultural South or Latin America, often under feudal terms, came to be reﬂected in policies that created a class of disrespected poor people that was not only becoming more numerous and worse off, but in which women and minorities were disproportionately prominent. Between 2000 and 2009, the percentage of mothers in the labour force increased, even as the percentage of women with an income less than half the poverty level rose, and the percentage of poor children receiving welfare assistance fell.18 When the Great Recession hit, 77 per cent of low- income women reported living paycheck to paycheck, a 17 point jump from the previous year.19 Similarly, when unemployment rose overall, it rose much more among Blacks and Latinos, who are also far more likely to ﬁnd themselves among the long-term unemployed, and far less likely to receive unemployment beneﬁts.20 Part of the cause for high and rising poverty levels in the United States is the inevitable result of the decades-long business mobilization to reduce labour costs and weaken labour organizations in the workplace. The mobilization began in the 1970s, and took form in changing workplace labour relations, where employers trying to hold down wages became much more intransigent in negotiations, and deployed strategies of union busting and restructuring of the labour process to make work more insecure. And business also mobilized to change public policies bearing on workers and their unions, with the result that National Labor Board decisions became much less favourable to workers and unions, workplace regulations were 112 SOCIALIST REGISTER 2012 not enforced, the minimum wage lagged far behind inﬂation, and safety net programs for the unemployed or the unemployable became more restrictive and beneﬁt levels fell (although the Earned Income Tax Credit which effectively provides a taxpayer subsidy to low-earning workers and their employers expanded enormously). Inevitably, the overall impact of the campaign to reduce labour’s share of national earnings also had the effect of increasing the proportion of the population unable to earn even a poverty level livelihood.21 But that is not the whole of it. The poor and the programs that assisted them were also the object of a large-scale campaign of direct attack. THE CAMPAIGN Neoliberalism is variously deﬁned, but most commentators would agree that it involves the increased penetration and domination of the state by capitalist interests. The project of state domination in an electoral-representative democracy depends not only on lobbyists, but also on winning public opinion, at least enough to win elections. And the ﬁrst phase of the attack on the poor does seem to have originated as an electoral strategy. This began even while the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960s was still in full throttle, and was evident in the presidential campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater, as well as the recurrent campaigns of sometimes Democrat George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor. Richard Nixon’s presidential bid in 1968 picked up the theme. As many commentators have pointed out, Nixon’s campaign strategy tapped the rising racial animosities not only of white southerners, but also of the white working-class people who were now locked in contests with newly urbanized African-Americans over jobs, public services, and housing and school desegregation. The racial theme was instantly merged with talk about the poor, with the steady rise of political propaganda targeting the poor and contemporary poor relief programs. Indeed, poverty became a kind of metaphor for Blacks, along with other metaphors, like welfare and unwed mothers, and crime. Much of the energy for the campaign came from electoral politics as resurgent Republicans tried to defeat Democrats by associating them with Blacks and policy liberalism. But whatever the immediate impetus, the bold outlines of the message were classical invocations of the call for excluding and demeaning the very poor that in short order were to result in a ‘War on Drugs’ that largely ignored the major trafﬁckers in favour of the lowest level offenders,22 massive prison incarceration and the wholesale ‘reform’ of the main means-tested cash assistance program, Aid to Families of Dependent Children.23 This politically driven attack on the American poor THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW 113 was an important opening drama in the decades-long campaign launched by business and the organized Right against workers.24 In fact, the neoliberal campaign to dominate the state had a much larger agenda than regulating the poor or attacking African-Americans. The bigger goals were soon apparent: massive redistribution of the burden of taxation, deregulation, the cannibalization of government services through privatization, wage cuts and enfeebled unions. At this stage, the poor, and Blacks, were a rhetorical foil, a propagandistic distraction to win elections and make bigger gains. Still, the rhetoric was important. A host of new think tanks, political organizations and lobbyists in Washington D.C. carried the message that the country’s problems were caused by the poor whose shiftlessness and sexual promiscuity were being indulged by a too-generous welfare system. Moreover, big cuts in the means-tested programs followed in short order. The staging of the cuts was itself propaganda, but the cuts also accumulated to erode the safety net that protected both the poor and workers, especially low wage workers, and that meant especially women and minorities. By 1980 and the election of Ronald Reagan, propaganda had smoothed the path for huge cuts in programs for poor people. Means-tested programs were cut by 54 per cent, job training by 81 per cent, housing assistance by 47 per cent.25 By the 1990s, the Republican campaign against the poor, and Blacks, came to be inﬂected back on the Democrats as they ﬂoundered for electoral strategies to ward off the assault, and to raise business money. It was Bill Clinton who campaigned with the slogan ‘end welfare as we know it’. The campaign at the federal level was soon matched by the activities in the state capitols of organizations like the American Federation for Children, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Institute for Liberty, and the State Policy Network. Their agenda was also big, eventually calling for large-scale privatization of public services, business tax cuts, the rollback of environmental regulations and consumer protections, crippling public sector unions, and measures (like requiring photo identiﬁcation) to restrict access to the ballot by students and the poor. In other words, the agenda was and is the capture of the American governmental apparatus. But from the beginning of the neoliberal mobilization in the 1970s, the poor were a main public target, and the main policy consequences were welfare cutbacks, particularly in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and state-level General Assistance programs, coupled with a law and order campaign that resulted in draconian sentencing practices, a huge prison expansion, and the massive incarceration of Black men. Much of this effort was played out in state politics. AFDC was a federal 114 SOCIALIST REGISTER 2012 grant-in-aid program targeted to impoverished lone mothers and their children that ceded considerable authority to the states, and often the counties, in determining eligibility and setting beneﬁt levels. When Black insurgency escalated in the 1960s, the federal government issued a series of rulings that restrained state and local governments from their customary restrictive welfare practices. Not surprisingly, the rolls rose and beneﬁt levels reached their peak in the late 1960s. Then, as the protests subsided, federal oversight was withdrawn. Between 1970 and 1996, the real average level of maximum beneﬁts fell by more than half, providing income for a family of three of only a fraction of the poverty line. Finally, in 1996, the program was eliminated, to be replaced by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a block grant that gave the states a good deal of leeway to limit assistance for a variety of reasons, and a remarkable incentive to do just that since the states received the full grant no matter how many people they actually assisted. The law also eliminated or greatly reduced the eligibility for federal safety net programs of legal immigrants during their ﬁrst ﬁve years of US residence.26 Subsequently, noncitizen eligibility for Food Stamps and Supplemental Security Income was restored, but not for TANF or Medicaid.27 The industry of policy researchers studying the effect of this reform all agree that, not surprisingly, the rolls have fallen dramatically and that at least for a time, work effort by recipients increased. As Stephen Pimpare points out, evaluations of the effects of the new program either on labour markets or family well-being are less conclusive, perhaps, he says, because beneﬁts had already been reduced sharply by the time TANF was introduced so few families actually counted on welfare for a large portion of their income.28 In any case, the signiﬁcance of the large changes that occurred in welfare policy over these decades cannot be properly assessed by research that fastens narrowly on the impact on a relatively small population of recipients. A more informative study is provided by Soss, Fording and Schram in a forthcoming book.29 Their data show that at the beginning of the 1960s, state-to-state variations in welfare beneﬁt levels were closely correlated with differences in state retail wages, and remained substantially lower than those wages, averaging 60 per cent. Then as Black insurgency forced the expansion of the rolls and the raising of beneﬁt levels along with the introduction of food stamp beneﬁts, the relationship between wages and beneﬁt levels weakened, and in some states beneﬁts actually exceeded the value of wages. After the mid-1970s, as insurgency disappeared, the real value of beneﬁts declined, although not as much as wages in the low-wage sectors that Soss, Fording and Schram track.30 Not, that is, until the introduction of a new welfare THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW 115 policy in the 1990s simply eliminated beneﬁts for most recipients. Soss, Fording and Schram think that the policy introduced in 1996 created a welfare regime of supervision and discipline, one that stresses the civic primacy of the market roles of consumer, worker and customer, and imposes those roles through state-level programs organized according to a business model, and indeed incorporating businesses into the bureaucracy by means of contracts for administering parts of the program.31 They may be right that something quite new is at work here in the eager adaptation of a business model by welfare bureaucracies. What may be more important, however, is the public celebration by the welfare establishment of the business model and the noisy application of wage work imperatives to the mothers of young children. The recession has now prompted further cutbacks in welfare programs. Because cash assistance has been so crippled by welfare reform, the federal food stamp program became very important in providing assistance to the poor. The program, which has been renamed the ‘Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program’, was boosted by stimulus funds provided in the 2009 Recovery Act, and beneﬁts temporarily rose in that year and so did participation, which increased from 34.4 million people to 40.8 million, most of whom were below the poverty line.32 That program has been the target of repeated attempts at cuts by the Congress, including attempts to tap the program’s funds for farm subsidies, and now an effort is under way to deny food stamps to any family that includes a worker on strike.33 But the biggest setbacks in assistance programs are occurring on the state and local levels. The developments which have made the federal arrangement of American governance so important in the policies that affect the poor deserve note. First, in the 2010 midterm elections the Republicans made large gains in the state capitols, and they are using their new majorities to continue to cut state taxes on business and the wealthy, invoking the mantra of ‘job creation’. As a result, since states usually cannot legally run deﬁcits, cuts in assistance programs to the poor and the unemployed seemingly become necessary. Moreover, the supplemental federal funds for TANF that were included in the Recovery Act of 2009 are running out. Thus the states have been the stage for a kind of manufactured austerity, a seeming structural imperative resulting from both the accumulation of past policies such as recurrent tax cuts for business and the afﬂuent, and the complex allocation of authority in the federal system. I should also note that federalism in the American system has always nurtured the business strategy of threatening to exit, to move across the state line (or across national borders) if their policy demands were not met. In response, states are cutting the TANF 116 SOCIALIST REGISTER 2012 caseload and beneﬁt levels and shortening lifetime limits on assistance. The percentage of single mothers receiving beneﬁts fell from 16 per cent in 2001 to 11 per cent in 2007 and then to 10 per cent in 2010. The mechanisms through which this was accomplished are not unfamiliar. In New York City, the onerous application process introduced with welfare reform includes ‘two interviews, ﬁngerprinting, presumptive fraud investigations, home visits conducted by case investigators and mandatory workforce orientations and up-front job search activities’.34 No wonder that the rate at which applications are denied, usually on the grounds of noncompliance with one or another of the unbelievably complex program rules, creeps upward as the recession continues. Those denied face eviction and homelessness, food insecurity and health problems. Meanwhile, unemployment insurance, basically a state program supplemented by emergency federal provisions for the longer-term unemployed, is also under attack by the states. Indeed, some states never accepted the federally funded long-term insurance extensions.35 Michigan has already reduced the state- paid unemployment beneﬁt from 26 to 20 weeks, and Florida followed suit despite a state unemployment rate of over 11 per cent by reducing state beneﬁts to 23 weeks. Some four million workers have run out of all unemployment beneﬁts.36 A hotel housekeeper in Indiana, a mother with four children, describes the parallel changes in her working conditions: ‘When I started 10 years ago we’d clean 14 to 15 rooms a day. Now we clean 40…. Its always run, run, run. I don’t eat lunch anymore. If I don’t ﬁnish in time, they’ll cut my hours the following week’.37 There are also signs on the horizon that, as the ﬁscal problems created by tax cuts and recession shortfalls roll through the federal system, deeper organizational changes to facilitate spending cuts are being contemplated. State and local governments are both the single largest employer in the US and the main providers of a range of social supports. Fiscal stresses are an opportunity to attack on both fronts. The New York Times reported that state policy makers are ‘working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let the states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised retired public workers’.38 And some states are moving to create arrangements for ‘emergency ﬁnancial management’ that are reminiscent of the state takeover of New York City ﬁnances during the ﬁscal crisis of 1975-76.39 These are not random moves. To the contrary, the path has been prepared by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which claims a membership of 2,000 state legislators and sees the recession as an opportunity to move forward on its mission of shrinking government, lowering taxes, and promoting free market ﬁscal policies.40 THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW 117 POLICY AS PROPAGANDA In the 1960s, the poor – usually personiﬁed in the welfare mother (who became Ronald Reagan’s imaginary welfare queen by the 1980s), or the homeless vagrant, or the crack addict – emerged as a central reference in American political discourse. At ﬁrst, this was largely the result of the equation of poverty, and liberal programs to ease poverty, with race and the indulgence of Blacks, an equation made easier by the fact that so many Blacks were indeed poor, and that Black insurgency had prompted the Great Society programs to ease poverty. The Republican strategy of stirring up racial antagonisms to wean white southern Democrats and the white northern working-class voters away from their traditional Democratic allegiances was perhaps obvious. Nor was this just a matter of campaign appeals. The organized Right, including rightwing foundations, politically engaged corporate leaders and the Christian Right, built a vast propaganda machine that wove together poverty, race and sex in appeals that helped to incite right-wing populist movements for four decades.41 The growing complexity of governance makes the public acutely susceptible to propaganda, especially propaganda that takes the form of stories that give simple explanations, usually pointing to particular villains who are ostensibly to blame for what is going wrong in their society. After all, it is nearly impossible to decipher what is going on in the centres of power. Can the public track debates about ‘credit default swaps’ or ‘debt- to-GDP ratios’ or can they disentangle proposals for health care reform or ﬁnancial regulation? Stories, slogans and sound bites can make a rough sense of a very complicated, even inscrutable, political world. But it was by no means the message machine alone that made the poor a target. Government policies and the bureaucrats and politicians that hover over them create a reality through their design and communication about public programs. In other words, government programs are themselves also a message machine. I can make my point easily by pointing to the program called social security, or more accurately Old Age Survivors and Dependents Insurance. The program has only superﬁcial resemblance to the private insurance policies that most people have been led to think of when they think of social security. An insurance policy is an individual contract where regular fees accumulate to guarantee payments when the event insured against occurs. Social security taxes do not accumulate to be paid out when old age or disability strikes. Beneﬁts to the aged or disabled are drawn from the payroll taxes of current workers. The reformers of the 1930s were eager to deﬁne their program as a nationwide insurance program because they thought that people accustomed to private insurance would ﬁnd that more appealing, 118 SOCIALIST REGISTER 2012 more ‘American’. They probably were right, at least in the shorter run. After all, social security is so popular that it has foiled a series of attempts to privatize it. But the price has been that Americans don’t understand that the program they love is a government venture that collectivizes risk and is even modestly redistributive. In a curious commentary on the success of the social security deception, Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis, both from the Heritage Foundation, published an article in 1982 on how to ‘prepare the political ground’ for the privatization of social security in the face of the ‘political power of the elderly’ which ‘will only increase in the future’. Their article, entitled ‘Achieving a “Leninist” Strategy’, proposes a series of incremental changes that will beneﬁt and attract the support of the ﬁnancial and business community in particular, while assuring the elderly that their beneﬁts will remain intact, meanwhile expanding Individual Retirement Accounts as a private prototype, and requiring the Social Security Administration to establish individual accounts revealing ‘the inter- and intra-generational distribution that occurs under the current system’. The elderly ‘might then come to realize that they have not purchased an earned annuity but instead are receiving a tremendous welfare subsidy’.42 Or perhaps the elderly would then realize that they also were ‘dependent’ on a collective, and governmental, effort. In any case, program as propaganda is clearly a game that both the Right and the Left can play. Social security has provided a measure of economic security for many people, and has dramatically reduced old age poverty, so one might applaud the shrewdness of the policy experts who designed the program to mislead the public. However, many policies that are not so benign, that work to the beneﬁt of the better-off, or promote the proﬁtability of particular industries, are also designed to mislead the public, largely by hiding the policies from view. Suzanne Mettler sees these policies as part of the ‘submerged state … [which] eludes most ordinary citizens: they have little awareness of its policies or their upwardly redistributive effects, and few are cognizant of what is at stake in reform efforts’. Federal guarantees to banks for student loans, tax-deferred savings accounts, home mortgage interest deductions are examples. Mettler reports the remarkable ﬁnding that majorities of those who enjoy each of these government beneﬁts think that they have not used a government social program.43 Not so with programs that reach the poor. These programs are typically very visible, the targeted beneﬁciaries (or victims) are usually loudly announced or more likely denounced by politicians, a good many people know or think they know about the programs, indeed often seem obsessed with them, and so do most of those who beneﬁt know they have used a THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW 119 government social program. Mettler reports that in 2008, large majorities of those who beneﬁted from social security for the disabled, supplemental security income, Medicaid, welfare, subsidized housing and food stamps knew in each case that they had in fact used a government program.44 Note for example that the welfare-to-work ‘demonstration’ programs that preceded the elimination of AFDC in favour of TANF, and the state TANF programs as well, often made the participating poor very visible indeed, outﬁtting them in orange day-glow vests as they picked up trash in the parks or on the parkways. PENALIZING THE POOR The criminal justice system is at least as visible. Indeed, beginning in the 1960s, the problem of law and order became a central theme in electoral politics, a theme invoking a Durkheimian drama about race, poverty, deviance and punishment. I said earlier that some of this can be traced to the Republican electoral campaigns of the 1960s which featured rhetoric about the poor, welfare, and crime as virtual synonyms for race and especially for Blacks. Over time, poverty politics resulted in ﬁrst the steady erosion of safety net beneﬁts, and then the overhaul of the main cash assistance program. Parallel to these developments, criminal sentencing became much harsher, especially but not only in connection with ‘the war on drugs’ and mandatory sentencing policies. Millions of men, most of them minorities, have been incarcerated. Even after serving their sentence or sentences, they are permanently stigmatized. They are usually effectively stripped of their right to vote, diminishing the importance of the African-American vote overall, and since they are unlikely to secure stable employment, they are consigned to the economy of the streets. Douglas Glasgow describes the life: Being broke, hustling, jiving, stealing, rapping, balling; a ﬁght, a bust, some time; no job, lost a job, a no-paying job; a lady, a baby, some weight; some wine, some grass, a pill; no ride, lost pride, man going down, slipping fast, can’t see where to make it; I’ve tried, almost died, ready now for almost anything.45 The expansion of the penal system that accompanied welfare reform is central to the argument made by Loic Wacquant. He sees the prison as an analogue to the ghetto, which also warehouses and marginalizes populations. ‘[T]he poverty of the social state’, he writes, ‘against the backdrop of deregulation elicits and necessitates the grandeur of the penal state’.46 And 120 SOCIALIST REGISTER 2012 he thinks the creation of the penal state is propelled by the political logic of neoliberalism, ‘namely the construction of a post-Keynesian, “liberal- paternalistic” state suited to institute desocialized wage labour and propagate the renewed ethic of work and “individual responsibility” that buttress it’.47 Much of what Wacquant has to say about the penal system is true. It is huge, processing many millions of people, most of them poor minority men. It is expensive, absorbing ever larger shares of public budgets. And the expansion of the system has been rapid and precipitous. Still, I wonder about the economic logic, or whether there is any unitary logic propelling the expansion of the penal system? And does that logic in fact reﬂect the imperatives of neoliberalism? In systemic terms, is massive incarceration logical at all? Clearly there is or was an electoral logic. Much of the fuel that fed the drive for tough drug laws, mandatory sentencing, and prison construction was generated by electoral politics, and particularly by the Republican strategy mentioned earlier of demonizing African-Americans in order to draw white voters away from the Democratic party with which Blacks had come to be associated. Some of that played itself out in national politics, and was evident in law and order initiatives as early as the Nixon administration. It also came to be mimicked by the Democrats. Bill Clinton used his 1994 State of the Union address to advertise his support of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ legislation which condemned repeat offenders, including non-violent ones, to lifetime imprisonment, and then threw his support behind the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.48 Moreover, the electoral uses of crime and punishment were by no means conﬁned to national politics. State prisons grew as candidates in gubernatorial races jumped into the fray trying to take advantage of the backlash politics fostered by national races by making campaign promises about tough anti-crime initiatives and prison building projects. Indeed, without the fuel of electoral contests organized around the backlash, it is hard to imagine that incarceration would have spiralled up as it did. But I disagree with Wacquant’s argument that the penal system functions much like welfare or workfare ‘to push its clientele onto the peripheral segments of the deskilled job market... continually (re)generating a large volume of marginal laborers who can be super- exploited at will’. The evidence we have about the actual consequences of incarceration does not support this explanation. Quite aside from the vast budgets commanded by the penal system which could of course be directed to arguably more successful training programs, are the wasted people and wasted labour that result from mass incarceration in fact functional for neoliberal labour markets? THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW 121 A prison record hardly equips those released for wage labour, desocialized or otherwise. One-third of released prisoners are reincarcerated within six months, and nearly half within a year.49 There is another grim possibility, that mass incarceration reﬂects the fact that the neoliberal labour market, having already incorporated women and immigrants on its own terms, and with vast numbers of potential workers in the southern hemisphere and China ready to be recruited with a click of the mouse, simply has little use for rebellious African-American men. I think we are at a pivotal moment, not only in the United States but also across the planet, if only because what happens in the US has widespread repercussions. Even putting aside the ‘end-times’ wonderings about climate change, food scarcity and nuclear disaster, the neoliberal juggernaut in the US is on a roll, calling for union busting state laws, ever greater clawbacks in the form of tax cuts for business and the afﬂuent, and budget cuts for everyone else, but especially for the worst-off, coupled with court-rulings that open the electoral system even wider to the inﬂuence of money while other changes are introduced into electoral administration that make voting more difﬁcult for the growing populations of naturalized citizens, youth, and the poor. Still, the corporate wealthy have been on a roll before, and they have been slowed, and in some respects even reversed, by the rise of protest movements that threatened to make the factories, the cities, and even the country ungovernable. Maybe the sheer boldness of the business Right, encouraged by their Tea Party allies, is a kind of overreach, and the sheer bravado of their demands is making evident what the Left has failed to make evident. This is the hope of Wisconsin, when thousands of students, workers, and community sympathizers gathered and occupied the capital to protest the right-wing Governor’s proposals to cut social spending by roughly the same amount as business taxes had been cut the previous month, adding for good measure a proposal to sharply limit the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions and threatening to call out the National Guard if the unions made trouble. Wisconsin does, I think, point the way, but it’s also the case that in Wisconsin the protestors have not yet won and, in the aftermath of the protests, the Wisconsin Senate is actually considering the reversal of child labour laws. The juggernaut will be hard to stop. It will take a bigger and bolder movement than Wisconsin and, both for moral and strategic reasons, it must include the worst-off whose circumstances are so closely bound to the circumstances of working people generally. So far, the rhetoric of resistance 122 SOCIALIST REGISTER 2012 is uncomfortably fastened on the idea of saving the ‘middle class’. Leaving aside that what is meant is the working class, a movement large enough and threatening enough to roll back the juggernaut will have to be inclusive. Most especially, it will need the armies of poor women, African-Americans and Latinos who are the foil for the broader attack on working people. Our future depends on it. NOTES 1 See Greg Kaufmann, ‘US Poverty: Past, Present and Future’, The Nation, 22 March 2001; Kathryn Ann Edwards, ‘Another Look at Poverty in the Great Recession’, Economic Policy Institute, 5 January 2011, available at http:// www.epi.org. 2 The extrapolation is based on the known relationship between the unemployment rate and the poverty rate. See Isabel V. Sawhill, ‘An Update to “Simulating the Effect of the ‘Great Recession’ on Poverty”’, The Brookings Institution, 7 October 2010. 3 On female poverty see Heidi Hartmann, ‘Women, the Recession, and the Stimulus Package’, Dissent, 56(4), pp. 42-47. 4 Steven Pressman and Robert H. Scott III, ‘Consumer Debt and Poverty Measurement’, Focus, Institute on Research on Poverty, Summer 2010. 5 See Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, ‘Reading Between the Lines: Women’s Poverty in the United States’, 2009, available at http://www. legalmomentum.org. 6 See Pamela Wiepking and Ineke Maas, Gender Differences in Poverty: A Cross- National Research, Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper, No. 389, October 2004. 7 Quoted in Tom Robbins, ‘Eat the Rich’, The Village Voice, 2 February 2011; see also James Parrott, ‘As Incomes Gap Widens, New York Grows Apart’, The Gotham Gazette, 18 January 2011. 8 See LaDonna Pavetti, Danilo Trisi and Liz Schott, ‘TANF Responded Unevenly to Increase in Need During Downturn’, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 25 January 2011. 9 Legal Momentum, ‘Poverty Rates for Single Mothers are Higher in the U.S. than in Other High Income Countries’, June 2011, available at http://www. legalmomentum.org. 10 See Doug Henwood’s review of a series of studies by the Pew Charitable Trusts Economic Mobility Project, ‘Mobility Today’, Left Business Observer, 132, 24 April 2011. 11 See Economic Policy Institute (EPI), The State of Working America 2011, available at http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org. 12 Catherine Rampell, ‘Higher-Paying Jobs Lost, but Lower-Paying Jobs Gained’, Economix, 23 February 2011. 13 Catherine Rampell, ‘Companies Spend on Equipment, Not Workers’, New York Times, 10 June 2011. The replacement of workers by machinery and new organizational methods continues a several-decades trend, as Kim Moody THE NEW AMERICAN POOR LAW 123 documents in U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition, London: Verso, 2007. 14 EPI, The State of Working America 2011. 15 See Jamie Peck, Workfare States, New York: The Guilford Press, 2001, p. 56. 16 Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, English Poor Law History Part I, The Old Poor Law, Hamden: Archon Books, 1963, p. 29. 17 Monthly labour force participation rates have declined slightly for men, but have risen robustly for women in the past three decades. See Hartmann, ‘Women, the Recession, and the Stimulus Package’, Figure 3, p. 45. 18 See Deepak Bhargava et al., ‘Battered by the Storm: How the Safety Net is Failing Americans and How to Fix It’, Institute for Policy Studies, December 2009; The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, ‘Single Mothers Since 2000: Falling Further Down’, Legal Momentum, 13 January 2001, available at http://www.legalmomentum.org. 19 ‘Women Bear Brunt of Economic Crisis’, Minority News, 6 May 2011. 20 See Andrew Grant-Thomas, ‘Why Are African Americans and Latinos Under- Represented Among Recipients of Unemployment Insurance and What Should We Do About It?’ Poverty and Race, 20(3), May/June 2011. 21 The Economic Policy Institute reported in 2005 before the recession that workers getting the minimum wage earned less than a third of the average hourly wage. See Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and Sylvia Allegretto, State of Working America 2008/2009, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009. 22 See Eric Sterling, ‘Time for a Change: 40 Years of Drug War Hasn’t Worked’, Alternet, 15 June 2011. Sterling was counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee and had the main responsibility for the writing of the law. 23 Agamben’s discussion of ‘bare life’ that is included in the legal regime for the purpose of being excluded is pertinent here. See Julie A. Nice, ‘Poverty as an Everyday State of Exception’, in Shelley Feldman, Charles Geisler, and Gayatri A. Menon, eds., Accumulating Insecurity: Violence and Dispossession in the Making of Everyday Life, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011; see also Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 24 This was not the ﬁrst time that a focus on poverty and relief policy was paired with a focus on crime. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England, relief expanded in response to protests precipitated by enclosure and modernizing changes in the terms of rural labour. But so did repression, as the Parliament moved to elaborate the criminal codes, and troops were deployed across the country. See John Lawrence Hammond and Barbara Bradby Hammond, The Town Labourer, 1760-1832: The New Civilization, London; Longmans, Green & Co., 1917, pp. 37-94. 25 See Sheldon Danziger, ‘Budget Cuts as Welfare Reform’, American Economic Review, 73(2), 1983, p. 65. 26 See Philip Kretsedemas and Ana Aparicio, eds., Immigrants, Welfare Reform, and the Poverty of Policy, Westport: Praeger, 2004; see also Amanda Levinson, ‘Immigrants and Welfare Use’, Migration Policy Institute, August 2002. 27 See Audrey Singer, ‘Welfare Reform and Immigrants: A Policy Review’, Brookings Institution, 20 June 2011; see also Audrey Singer, ‘Immigrants, Welfare Reform and the Coming Reauthorization Vote’, Migration Policy Institute, August 2002. 124 SOCIALIST REGISTER 2012 28 Stephen Pimpare, ‘In the Wake of Reforms: Unclear Outcomes and the State of Welfare Policy Analysis, 1996-2008’, unpublished manuscript, Silver School of Social Work, New York University. 29 Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording and Sanford F. Schram, Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 30 Ibid., ch. 4. 31 See Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss, Linda Houser and Richard C. Fording, ‘The Third Level of US Welfare Reform: Governmentality under Neoliberal Paternalism’, Citizenship Studies, 14(6), 2010, pp. 739-754. 32 See FRAC Alerts, 26 April 2011, The Food Research and Action Center, available at http://www.frac.org. 33 Editorial, New York Times, 25 March 2011. 34 Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, ‘Policy Matters’, January 2011. 35 These states are Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and Utah and Arizona is currently resisting a renewal of federal long-term beneﬁts. See Catherine Rampell, ‘For Want of a Word, Arizona’s Jobless Lose Checks’, New York Times, 18 June 2011. 36 See William M. Welch, ‘Long-term Jobless See Reduction in Beneﬁts’, USA Today, 17 May 2011. 37 Quoted in Editorial, ‘Unfair Working Conditions: Blame Greed, Not the Economy’, Los Angeles Times, 11 June 2011. 38 Mary Williams Walsh, ‘A Path is Sought for States to Escape their Debt Burdens’, New York Times, 20 January 2011. 39 See Rania Khalek, ‘Coup d’état Coming Soon to a City Near You’, Common Dreams, 20 April 2011, available at http://www.commondreams.org. 40 See Leonard Gilroy and Jonathan Williams, eds., State Budget Reform Toolkit, Washington, DC: American Legislative Exchange Council, 2011. 41 See Lewis H. Lapham, ‘The Tentacles of Rage’, Harper’s Magazine, September 2004. 42 Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis, ‘Achieving a “Leninist” Strategy’, Cato Journal, 3(2), Fall 1983. 43 See Suzanne Mettler, ‘Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era’, Perspectives on Politics, 8(3), September 2010, Table 3, p. 809. 44 Ibid., p. 809. 45 Douglas Glasgow, The Black Underclass: Poverty, Unemployment, and the Entrapment of Ghetto Life, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1980, p. 104. 46 Wacquant, Loic, ‘Ordering Insecurity: Social Polarization and the Punitive Upsurge’, Radical Philosophy Review, 11(1), Spring 2008, pp. 9–27. 47 See Loic Wacquant, ‘The Place of the Prison in the New Government of Poverty’, in Mary Louise Frampton, Ian Haney Lopez and Jonathan Simon, eds., After the War on Crime: Race, Democracy, and a New Reconstruction, New York: New York University Press, 2008, pp. 23-37. 48 See Timothy Black, When a Heart Turns Rock Solid, New York: Pantheon Books, 2009, p. 217. 49 Ibid., p. 268.