top of page

'Automating Inequality': Algorithms In Public Services Often Fail The Most Vulnerable


High-tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poorr

In the fall of 2008, Omega Young got a letter prompting her to recertify for Medicaid.

But she was unable to make the appointment because she was suffering from ovarian cancer. She called her local Indiana office to say she was in the hospital.

Her benefits were cut off anyway. The reason: "failure to cooperate."

"She lost her benefits, she couldn't afford her medication, she lost her food stamps, she couldn't pay her rent, she lost access to free transportation to her medical appointments," Virginia Eubanks tells NPR's Ari Shapiro. Eubanks is the author of a new book, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police and Punish the Poor."

Young died on March 1, 2009," Eubanks says. "The next day, she won an appeal for wrongful termination and all of her benefits were restored the day after her death.

"Young's story is one of three detailed pictures across the country that Eubanks draws to illustrate that automated systems used by the government to deliver public services often fall short for the very people who need it most: An effort to automate welfare eligibility in Indiana, a project to create an electronic registry of the homeless in Los Angeles, and an attempt to develop a risk model to predict child abuse in Allegheny County, Penn.

Read more from NPR here.

bottom of page