Carolyn Barnes

Carolyn Barnes, PhD

Associate Professor

969 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

Areas of Expertise
Administrative Burden
Policy Feedback
Racial Inequality
Social Welfare
Street Level Bureaucracy
Urban Politics

Carolyn Barnes is an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. Her research agenda broadly explores the social and political implications of social policy on low-income populations in the areas of childcare policy, family services and supports for young children. Her book, State of Empowerment: Low Income Families and the New Welfare State (University of Michigan Press), is an in-depth organizational ethnography that examines how publicly funded after-school programs shape the political behavior of low-income parents. She has published in peer-reviewed journals including Policy Studies Journal, the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Children Youth Service Review, and Race and Social Problems. Barnes has initiated a new line of interdisciplinary research that examines how social policy implementation reproduces racial inequality in rural southern communities.

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State of Empowerment: Low-Income Families and the New Welfare State. 2020. University of Michigan Press.

  • Featured in the Office of Management and Budget policy guidance for the Improving Access to Public Benefits Programs Through the Paperwork Reduction Act.

It’s Who You Know: The Politics of Race, Poverty, and Social Policy in the Rural South. Under Contract, Cambridge University Press.

Public Policy in an Era of Inequality: Fundamentals and New Perspectives. Under Contract, CQ Press

(asterisk indicates a graduate student or post doc mentee)

Barnes, Carolyn, Sarah Halpern-Meekin, and *Jill Hoiting. “I used to get WIC . . . But then I stopped”: How WIC participants perceive the value and burdens of maintaining benefits.” Forthcoming for a Special Issue on Administrative Burden in The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of Social Sciences.

Barnes, Carolyn. "I can't get a hold of them:" Perceptions of Administrative Burden and Administrative Exclusion Across SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Forthcoming for a Special Issue on Restructuring the Social Safety Net for the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Barnes, Carolyn, Jamila Michener, and *Emily Rains. “It’s Like Night and Day:” How Bureaucratic Encounters Vary Across WIC, SNAP, and Medicaid. Forthcoming in Social Service Review.

Barnes, Carolyn, *Virginia Riel (2022). “"I don’t know nothing about that:” How “learning costs” undermine COVID-related efforts to make SNAP and WIC more accessible. Administration and Society.

  • Featured in the Office of Management and Budget policy guidance for the Improving Access to Public Benefits Programs Through the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Barnes, Carolyn and *Sarah Petry (2021). “It was actually pretty easy:" COVID-19 Compliance Cost Reductions in the WIC Program.” Public Administration Review.

  • Featured in the Office of Management and Budget policy guidance for the Improving Access to Public Benefits Programs Through the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Barnes, Carolyn and Lisa Gennetian (2021). “Experiences of Hispanic families with social services in the racially segregated Southeast: Perspectives from Administrators and Workers in North Carolina, Race Soc Problems, Vol. 13: 6–21.

Barnes, Carolyn (2021). "It takes a while to get used to:" The Costs of Redeeming Public Benefits. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Vol. 31, No. 2: 295-310.

  • Featured in the Office of Management and Budget policy guidance for the Improving Access to Public Benefits Programs Through the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Goss, Kristin A., Carolyn Barnes, and Deondra Rose (2019). Bringing Organizations Back In: Multilevel Feedback Effects on Individual Civic Inclusion. Policy Studies Journal, Vol 47, No. 2: 451-470.

Barnes, Carolyn and *Sarah Nolan (2019). "Professionals, friends, and confidants: After-school staff as social support to low-income parents." Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 98: 238-251.

Christina Chauvenet, Molly De Marco, Carolyn Barnes, and Alice Ammerman (2019). “Stigmatization and Customer Satisfaction of WIC Recipients in the Retail Environment Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Vol. 119, No. 3: 416-424.

Barnes, Carolyn and Julia Henly (2018). “They are Underpaid and Understaffed”: How Clients Interpret Encounters with Street-Level Bureaucrats,” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Vol. 28, No. 2: 165-181.  

Barnes, Carolyn and Elan Hope (2017). “Means-Tested Public Assistance Programs and Adolescent Political Socialization,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 46: 1611-1621.


Barnes, Carolyn, Patricia Garrett-Peters, and Robert Carr. “Perceived Racial Discrimination and Program Uptake in Nutrition Assistance Programs.” Revise and Resubmit

Barnes, Carolyn and *Virginia Riel. “Decoupling Policy and Practice: The Redemption Costs of WIC,” Under Review   


Barnes, Carolyn. “’Once the door shuts:’ Social Support in staff-client interactions: The Case of WIC offices”

Barnes, Carolyn. ‘It’s all about control:’ The Political Economy of Small-Town Social Service Delivery.

Barnes, Carolyn. “You have put on that straight face:” How bureaucrats incur psychological costs from bureaucratic encounters.”

Barnes, Carolyn and *Virginia Riel. “It's a Breeze:” How Technological Changes Ease Redemption of WIC,”


Carolyn Barnes (2021) “Barriers to Social Service Participation in North Carolina: Research Brief” Blue Cross Foundation of North Carolina, Durham, NC.

Julia. R Henly, Heather Sandstrom, Amy Claessens, Alejandra Pilarz,  Sandra Huerta, Yael Hoffman, Carolyn Barnes, Jaimie Grazi, Laura Rothenberg, Tonie Sadler, and Kristen Black (2014). “Determinants of subsidy stability and child care continuity:  Findings from the qualitative study of the IL/NY Child Care Research Partnership.” A joint publication of the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, and the Urban Institute, Washington, D.C.

Carolyn Barnes, Sandra Danziger, Richard Rodems (2012). “Feedback Effects of Nonprofit Program Design: An Analysis of the Effects of the Starfish Family Services Family Success Program," University of Michigan, National Poverty Center Working Paper.”

Sandra Danziger, Sue Ann Savas, Richard Rodems, and Carolyn Barnes. (2011).  “University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy Year One Evaluation Report: Starfish Family Success Anti-Poverty Initiative.” Ann Arbor, MI.

Prior to the Crown Family School, Carolyn Barnes was an assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Barnes’s research has been supported by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Blue Cross Foundation of North Carolina, The Wallace Foundation, and several family foundations. She completed a PhD in Political Science and Public Policy from the University of Michigan, where she worked as an affiliate of the National Poverty Center conducting research on the effects of nonprofit community-based service provision on parenting practices and the psycho-social well-being of families and children.