Recent US welfare-form initiatives affecting employment and housing assistance have promoted more flexible applications of assistance as well as devolving the responsibility of care for the poor from federal levels to the individual. Implicit in these policy changes is the assumption that individuals enter labor and housing markets where open access is the norm and a 'level playing field' exists. In this paper, we use the analogy of seeing labor and housing markets as public spaces to analyze how the ideals of democratic capitalism in labor and housing markets exist normatively, but are always violated in practice. We argue that the influence of neoliberalism, and the devolution of welfare responsibility to the individual in particular, have led to policy changes that neglect issues of unequal access connected to hierarchies of race and gender and their spatial manifestations. Welfare reform in the specific areas of employment and housing assistance has promoted the primacy of private markets as essential components to ensuring social welfare. These reforms have superficially opened more options to recipients of public assistance while simultaneously allowing to continue the instruments, institutions, and structural forces that constrain practical access to the full range of jobs and housing. We argue that efforts to maintain these markets have not been distributed to measures ensuring fair play of participants. As a consequence, some problematic contradictions between policy and practice call into question the suitability of the private market as a strategy of providing welfare for the poor.
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