Story at a glance
- Mayors for a Guaranteed Income is a coalition of 40 democratic mayors piloting universal income programs in their cities.
- One year after the initial program launched, findings revealed that more recipients are working full-time.
- The push for a guaranteed income comes as the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated economic hardships for many Americans.
The first question former Mayor Michael Tubbs anticipates when he brings up guaranteed income is: Won’t people just stop working?
The preliminary findings of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) announced at a press conference reveal the exact opposite — many guaranteed income recipients are now working more and earning more.
“We see concerns over spending money right and that's a direct result of this notion that people are in poverty because of some personal failure, rather than that poverty is a human creation created by policy failures,” saidSt. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, the first Black mayor of the city.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW
Carter is one of more than 40 mayors who have joined the coalition in advocating for a guaranteed income in their cities. Most recently, the cities of Newark, N.J., and Gainesville, Fla., have adopted guaranteed income resolutions modeled after SEED, launched in February 2019 by Tubbs.
In an analysis of the program's inaugural year, the $500 granted to 125 recipients each month reduced income volatility and enabled recipients to find full-time employment and pursue new opportunities, ultimately making them happier and healthier.
“I was very depressed. I was down and out. I was at rock bottom. SEED brought me back and gave me the chance to do better things,” said Tomas Vargas, a SEED recipient who said he was able to move from part-time work to full-time work that allowed him to spend more time with his family and take care of his own health. “If it wasn’t for SEED, if Tubbs hadn't made that choice it would have just been continued suffering.”
Financial scarcity generates time scarcity, said co-author Stacia West, a professor at the University of Tennessee and co-director of the Center for Guaranteed Income Research (CGIR) at the University of Pennsylvania. Those with part-time jobs and less job security are often unable to take the time to pursue better opportunities, she said. But the $500 payments interrupted this cycle by providing recipients a safety net.
“These numbers were incredible and I hardly believed them myself,” said Amy Castro Baker, co-author and professor at CGIR. “It begs the question what kind of potential are we locking away when we keep people unable to escape poverty just because of the way the system is set up.”
The program coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which was devastating to low-income Americans, especially Black, Indigenous and Latino communities. Still, the number of SEED recipients who were employed full-time grew from 28 percent in February 2019 to 40 percent a year later. Meanwhile, people in the control group experienced nearly 1.5 times more income volatility than those who received a guaranteed income, with their monthly income fluctuating by more than two-thirds.
And yet, the analysis found the guaranteed income wasn’t enough to alleviate all of the economic hardships that face low-income families, many of which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
"We found that the $500 made making rent payments, covering childcare, and taking care of medical needs more bearable for recipients, but it was not nearly enough to cover the exorbitant costs of these necessities," concluded West and Baker in the study.
READ MORE LIKE THIS FROM CHANGING AMERICA