Opinion: Implement universal basic income to heal poverty, address teen violence

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All of our kids should have the freedom to dream big and pursue their goals. Whether they’re Black, brown or white, no child should go without their basic needs being met, and without the opportunity to build their futures. But far too often, poverty decides a child’s fate for them. We can change the trajectory of our youth’s lives, and build a stronger safer community. The solution starts by adopting a universal basic income program.  

Universal basic income (UBI) is simple, relatively inexpensive, and proven to work. Cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago have invested in UBI to tackle poverty, racism and violence. It’s time for Erie leadership to make smart moves to address our child poverty rate, which is the worst in the nation, and is driving youth crime. As a city we cannot be serious about reducing violence if we are not serious about addressing its root cause — poverty.  

It breaks my heart when I see the boys in my neighborhood on the same path that I was on as a kid. It’s called the school-to-prison pipeline for a reason. I’ve watched these kids go from little boys playing together on the street, to dropping out of school, to carrying guns. I left my hometown of Detroit because of the violence. My best friend was shot when we were just 15. Nobody should have to experience that. 

It’s harder than ever for average families to get by. Folks have lived through years of a pandemic that’s meant missed work shifts and extra child care, and our grocery bills seem to go up every week. Imagine what a little boost in income would mean for struggling families. A UBI pilot could help the heat stay on at home, and provide kids with a nourishing meal and clean pair of socks. These essential things aren’t guaranteed when you grow up in poverty, but can make a world of difference towards making kids feel secure and confident at school. 

I’ve lived in Erie for more than a decade. It’s a truly diverse community, and I love every part of it, from Little Italy on West 18th Street down to the hoods on Erie’s lower east side. I don’t have family here but I’ve found an incredible community through my church and work. These are good people. And I want a safe community for all my neighbors.  

School is a place where childhood happens. It’s where kids from different places and races learn to understand the present and prepare for the future. They need to show up, ready to succeed. But the daily experience of poverty can mean they experience abuse at home, are distracted by their hunger, or bullied because they don’t have as much as other kids. That can easily turn into another dropout. 

Change requires early intervention, and a solution that addresses the root cause of violence — poverty.

We can give hope to the youth in Erie. A meal, some clean socks and a basketball can change a child’s entire life trajectory. And that’s exactly what we could accomplish with a universal basic income pilot program. Together we can demand that every child has a chance to be cared for and grow. All we need is bold leadership from our City Council to make it a reality. 

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