Stockton, California, recently started an experimental basic income program. The concept is simple: 130 residents will receive monthly payments, no strings attached, over the course of 18 months. The first payment was delivered in February.
When the experiment is complete, according to The Los Angeles Times, city authorities will pore over how people spent the money and how it changed their lives — resulting in a study that could provide crucial insight into the economics of basic income.
Participants aren’t exactly getting lifted out of poverty — the city is paying each person $500 each month. It’s not enough to change anyone’s tax bracket, but Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs argues that it could grant security to people who are struggling to make ends meet or working several jobs.
“I know what it’s like to be hungry or to see your mom struggling. Everyone in my neighborhood was always outside playing because their parents were working. And they weren’t at home waiting for the government to save them,” Tubbs told the LA Times. “I think I have a special responsibility to elevate policy and solutions that can deal with these issues, but also to change these caricatures we have of people who are no different than anyone else. Who happen to work in jobs that don’t pay well.”
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The pilot program’s data won’t be available for a few years, and the organizers are acting secretive, the LA Times reports.
But in coming months, some participants are expected to share stories about how they’re using the money and what it’s meant to them. Actual research into the basic income program will be more data intensive, but these so-called “Storyteller” participants can give people an idea of how basic income works in the meantime.
“We have a real opportunity to rethink how we talk about the safety net, what it means to get by, and we want to take advantage of that,” University of Pennsylvania-affiliated researcher Amy Castro Baker told the LA Times. “I would argue that research is always informed by something that you would like to see happen or not happen in the world, and we are owning that.”