Story at a glance

  • Income inequality intensified by economic hardships brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has spurred cities across the country to take action by offering some residents a guaranteed income.
  • The idea of guaranteed income was made popular by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who wanted to give $1,000 a month to every American.
  • But before Yang brought national attention to the fringe idea, Aisha Nyandoro had her own project up and running in Jackson, Miss.

Income inequality intensified by economic hardships brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has spurred cities across the country to take action by offering some residents a guaranteed income. 

Nearly two dozen U.S. cities have started to adopt the idea of no-strings-attached income, which was a popular tenet of former presidential candidate and now New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang’s campaign. Yang wanted to give $1,000 every month to every American. 

But before Yang brought national attention to the fringe idea, Aisha Nyandoro had her own project up and running in Jackson, Miss., NPR reported. Nyandoro started Springboard to Opportunities in 2018, which began giving $1,000 monthly to 20 mothers. 

"Unfortunately, without COVID and without the pandemic and the economic downturn, I don't know if we would be having the conversations with the intensity that we are regarding guaranteed income,” Nyandoro told NPR. "But we are. So we'll take it."

Now, cities like Los Angeles are entering the mix, but a city program in LA would be different from Nyandoro’s program. LA is working on a plan that would offer $1,000 per month to 1,000 families using public funds, according to NPR. 


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President Biden has proposed various programs outside of guaranteed income to target poverty. The president introduced the American Jobs Plan during a joint session of Congress in April, which includes free community college education for all Americans, $85 billion in federal Pell Grants and universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds. 

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics recorded an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent in April, but a study from researchers at The University of Chicago and The University of Notre Dame estimated the April poverty rate at a pandemic-high 11.2 percent.  

Isabel Sawhill, senior fellow in Economic Studies at The Brookings Institution and a member of former President Clinton’s welfare task force, told NPR Yang’s highly visible push was a major benefit to the movement. Sawhill noted that the burgeoning movement can be viewed as a reaction to policies under Clinton that effectively slashed payments to needy people in order to promote work-based programs. 

"One of the things that surprised me is that a lot of welfare moms really don't like welfare,” Sawhill told NPR. "It's not their first choice. They'd much rather be working."

The theory of “welfare queens” became popular as Republicans voiced the idea that some women on federal welfare programs were found to be living lavish lifestyles. 

"In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record," Ronald Reagan said in a radio address in 1976, before his presidency. "She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veteran's benefits for four nonexistent deceased veterans husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year."

But critics on both sides of the political aisle agree that the success of current programs can only offer so much insight into how they will translate on a larger scale and might not adequately reflect conservative concerns. 

"The kinds of concerns that most conservatives have about the impact on work are not going to typically show up one year into the experiment," said Scott Winship, director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute. "They're going to show up five years into the experiment, ten years into the experiment."


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Published on May 14, 2021