Universal Basic Income Is A Great Idea — Look At Stockton, California

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
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Many of us have received our most recent round of COVID relief checks. What you do with your money is your business, but if you are someone who doesn’t think government handouts are a good idea, I am happy to suggest places and people who could benefit from your complaints. For those of us who have children, this relief package includes a taste of basic universal income that has been tested in other countries and is being suggested by the Biden administration. Starting in July and going through December, parents of children under the age of six will get $300 per month and $250 per child under the age of 18.

This credit is different than the child tax credit currently in place because it is being given to the people who need it the most: those in the lowest economic brackets who didn’t previously earn enough money to be given the help they need to get out of poverty. Yes, you read that right. Only the sort of poor could benefit, not the super poor, because the credit is based on earned income and taxes paid, but does not include income from unemployment or public assistance.

Biden’s relief package is not the first test of offering “free money” to those who need it the most. This is currently being examined after an experiment that started in February 2019 in Stockton, California where 125 people were given $500 a month with no strings attached. The results are in, and researchers are eager to share the findings.

Funded by philanthropic organizations, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration gave randomly selected individuals who had average incomes lower than the median $46,000 per year $500 a month to do whatever they wanted. They were not given drug tests or work requirements; they were simply helped and trusted.

Contrary to those who have never needed assistance, the people who were helped did not become less motivated to work and didn’t spend it on drugs, alcohol, or other so called “temptation goods.” They paid their fucking bills, spent time with their kids, and got out of abusive relationships.

First of all, if you grew up in poverty like I did, people find a way to get their “temptation goods” with or without assistance. Living in poverty is fucking hard and often laced with addiction, abuse, and days of working 2-4 jobs just to make ends meet. That pack of cigarettes or bottle of booze got some folks through, but didn’t necessarily keep them in poverty. I am not speaking for all folks in or from poverty, nor do I think all people in poverty make the best financial decisions. However, I understand the logic behind purchasing items that don’t seem like needs to others. It’s not up to anyone else to police the way folks spend their money, though.

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Newly released data from the Stockton experiment highlights how beneficial predictable income is for those who live on unpredictable paychecks from month to month. Gig work became increasingly unstable during the pandemic, and those of us who are gig workers know that even in the best of times the fluctuation of work makes it hard to meet each month’s needs; forget trying to get ahead. The folks who received the $500 a month in Stockton were less stressed and were able to make better decisions and plans for their future. They were able to move from part-time to full-time work. They were able to breathe.

Universal basic income does not make people lazy or frivolous. It does not disincentivize people from working. It does make them healthier, though.

“Cash is a better way to cure some forms of depression and anxiety than Prozac. So many of the illnesses we see in our community are a result of toxic stress and elevated cortisol levels and anxiety, directly attributed to income volatility and not having enough to cover your basic necessities,” says Michael Tubbs, former mayor of Stockton, who led the project.

Several other cities in the United States are looking to run universal basic income programs, but to truly fix poverty in this country, it needs to happen at a federal level. There are currently 27 million children in this country, including half of Black and Latino children, who did not get the entire child tax credit because their families didn’t make enough money to qualify. If Biden’s historic piece of the relief bill were to continue on its own, it would lift nearly 10 million kids to or above the poverty line. The new tax credit would raise the maximum annual benefit line for many families to $3,600 per child under age 6 and to $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17. This is up from $2,000 per child under 17. Also, parents would be paid out over the course of the year instead of just at tax season. This reduces income volatility, which we learned from the Stockton experiment is a good thing.

Your assumptions about “free money” or universal basic income are wrong. They best way to help people in need is to give them what they need; they don’t need alternative suggestions or criticism. And am I the only one who knows about trust fund babies? Or witnessed rich kids sail through school, college, and life with safety nets created by previous generations that allow them to add to the padding of said net so they can offer the same to their children? While taxes are being paid on income, in what way was that income “earned?” Why do some kids get access to free money while others don’t?

Don’t tell me it’s because of hard work or determination. It’s because of luck and opportunity. Many people in poverty or at the poverty line work really hard and still don’t have access to equitable opportunities. And who says we have to work hard all of the time?

Why are poor people and lower income earners not allowed to take breaks, spend time with their kids, take risks, and create opportunities that would better their emotional and physical health and earning potential? If your goal is to stop paying for “those people” then doesn’t it benefit you and society to help people “get off welfare” by giving them the means to do so?

Yes. Yes it does.

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