Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Leith Mullings

Subject Categories

American Studies | Public Policy | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies


Hunger, Political Economy, Poverty, Public Health, Urban Inequality, Welfare Policy


This dissertation tracks the remarkable growth of food assistance in the U.S. over the past fifteen years and asks what this expansion of food aid means for poor people living in New York City. Much of the scholarly literature on welfare policy in the U.S argues that social programs have become more stingy and punitive, particularly since the passage of welfare reform in 1996. On the surface, this does not seem to be the case for the food stamp program or for emergency food providers like soup kitchens and food pantries. Since 2001 food stamp rolls have risen 120% in New York City, reflecting national trends. Today nearly fifteen percent of Americans are enrolled in the program and nearly as many have accessed food from an emergency food provider. Prior to welfare reform in the 1990's, welfare recipients and their children made up the majority of the food stamp caseload. Today, the typical food stamp recipient is a low-wage worker who does not earn enough to afford basic household necessities like food. Far from a simple return to Keynesian welfare policy, the growth of food assistance reflects a broader restructuring of the US welfare state, which increasingly subsidizes low wage labor but does little for the unemployed. By placing the growth of food assistance programs squarely in the context of welfare reform, Consuming Poverty demonstrates how welfare programs have been restructured to benefit the working poor, punish the unemployed and produce an enormous network of quasi-private charities that are expected to fill the gaps in the safety net. This transformation of the social safety net is aimed at regulating work and, to a lesser extent, health in an era of low wages, flexible employment and a costly obesity epidemic that disproportionately affects poor people.