Skip to main content
Cover for The Upper Limit

The Upper Limit

How Low-Wage Work Defines Punishment and Welfare

François Bonnet


List Price: 85.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (8/27/2019)


Since 1993, crime in the United States has fallen to historic lows, seeming to legitimize the country’s mix of welfare reform and mass incarceration. The Upper Limit explains how this unusual mix came about, examining how, beginning in the 1970s, declining living standards for the poor have defined social and penal policy in the United States, making welfare more restrictive and punishment harsher. François Bonnet shows how low-wage work sets the upper limit of social and penal policy, where welfare must be less attractive than low-wage work and criminal life must be less attractive than welfare. In essence, the living standards of the lowest class of workers in a society determine the upper limit for the generosity of welfare and for the humanity of punishment in that society. The Upper Limit explores the local consequences of this punitive adjustment in East New York, a Brooklyn neighborhood where crime fell in the 1990s. Bonnet argues that no meaningful penal reform can happen unless living standards and the minimum wage rise again. Enlightening and provocative, The Upper Limit provides a comprehensive theory of the evolution of social and penal policy.

Praise For The Upper Limit: How Low-Wage Work Defines Punishment and Welfare

"The book’s analyses of punitive practices through multiple public and private organizations is worthy of the read in itself."
— Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

"The Upper Limit enriches a broad range of literatures, including poverty and inequality, social welfare, punishment studies, reentry, federal housing assistance, and political sociology. . . . Bonnet’s work illuminates the social stakes and imperatives of that fight—the chance to create a more generous and less punitive society."
— Contemporary Sociology

"The Upper Limit will be of wide interest to sociologists and criminologists concerned with social order, inequality, and punishment. It makes important theoretical contributions to research on? ?social policy and penal transformation?. . . . ?In a contemporary moment defined by the human and economic devastation of the global covid-19 pandemic and ongoing violence, racism, and political turmoil in the US, this book lays out what it would take to move the American social order towards greater equality and humanity.?"
— Labour/Le Travail

University of California Press, 9780520305212, 200pp.

Publication Date: August 27, 2019

About the Author

François Bonnet is Research Fellow in Sociology and Political Science at CNRS, the French National Center for Scientific Research.