What Happens When You Give 6,000 Americans Guaranteed Basic Income? The Results Are In

By: Kristi Pahr

In nearly two dozen cities around the country, 6,000 low-income individuals and families have been taking part in pilot studies to test the benefits and drawbacks of guaranteed income. The data is trickling in, and so far, the program is doing exactly what it promised.

For one, the money is going towards real needs.

The largest expenditures of funds, 40%, were at superstores and other retail establishments — purchasing food and grocery items at Wal-Mart or other superstores falls into this category. The second largest expenditure, 28%, was for food at traditional grocery stores and restaurants. Participants also spent funds on housing and utilities, medical care, educational expenses, and financial transaction like loan payments and insurance premiums.

But who it’s reaching is maybe even more noteworthy. In Gainesville, Fla., the funds were distributed to formerly incarcerated citizens; in Birmingham, Ala., single mothers received the extra income; in Columbia, South Carolina, it was fathers. Forty-four percent of participants identified as Black, 33% as mixed race, and 25% as Latino.

These and more results were recently published to the Guaranteed Income Pilots Dashboard, a sort of clearinghouse for participant cities that is sponsored and maintained by the Stanford Basic Income Labthe Center for Guaranteed Income Research, and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, an advocacy group founded in 2020 by Stockton, Calif., Mayor Michael Tubbs.

Tubbs, who was elected as Mayor of Stockton in 2016 at age 22, would likely not be surprised. He started the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration in 2019, which provided $500 per month to city residents and was the first-ever mayor-led income program. Many consider the Stockton program a resounding success, and Tubbs’ results underscore the magnitude of impact additional income can have for a family.

While the idea of guaranteed income gets a fair amount of political pushback in America, it is the norm in other OECD countries, where on average, a family will receive payments equal to as much as 5% of their annual income. The closest the U.S. has come to guaranteed family income was the short-lived but wildly popular Expanded Child Tax Credit payments.

The Child Tax Credit was estimated to have raised over four million children out of poverty. After a Democratic push to extend the cash payments was shot down by Republicans and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, millions of families predictably slipped back into poverty and food insecurity.

The latest city-led basic income programs seek to fill income gaps for marginalized communities, allowing participants, many of whom are single parents of color, to provide basic necessities for their families and not be forced to choose between feeding their children or themselves.

Over 30 more cities will share data on the dashboard for this project in the future. If the results there look anything like what’s been published so far, guaranteed income advocates will inherit a strong data-lead argument to get backing by politicians for more permanent programs. With nearly 12 percent of Americans below the poverty line in the U.S., millions are counting on it.

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