One means by which the state reinforces inequality is by imposing administrative burdens that loom larger for citizens with lower levels of human capital. Human capital offers a new perspective on inequality for public administration, but there is much we don’t understand about how it matters for state action. Integrating insights from a variety of disciplines, we focus on one aspect of human capital, cognitive resources. We outline a model that explains how burdens and cognitive resources, especially executive functioning, interrelate, with important implications for inequalities in citizen outcomes. We then provide illustrative examples, by highlighting three common life factors – scarcity, health problems, and age-related cognitive decline. These factors both increase the likelihood that individuals will need assistance from the state, and undermine executive functioning skills, which in turn, may exacerbate the negative effects of burdensome interactions with the state, reducing access to state benefits and increasing inequality.