Changing Times – January 13, 2022
from Time Magazine
Inside the Nation’s Largest Guaranteed Income Experiment
Editor’s note: Ten years ago I would have thought this is a really dumb ideal. Today I am not so sure. Robotics is why I have changed my mind. For example, within 10 year autonomous drive trucks will be in common use. Experts say as many as 800,000 truck drivers could be impacted. The country could be running out of jobs.
One evening in early June, Leo and his family were able to enjoy a treat they hadn’t experienced in months: a sit-down meal at a restaurant.
At a fried chicken chain in a Compton, California strip mall, they splurged on a few plates of fried rice, each costing under $13.99. The money Leo, 39, makes as a mechanic never seems to satisfy the deluge of bills that pile up on his kitchen counter each month, so the modest meal felt like a luxury. “It made me very happy,” Leo says in Spanish through an interpreter.
The family was only able to afford the meal because Leo is part of a groundbreaking guaranteed income experiment in his city called the Compton Pledge. In regular installments between late 2020 and the end of 2022, Leo and 799 other individuals are receiving up to $7,200 annually to spend however they like. Leo, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who TIME has agreed to refer to by a pseudonym to protect his identity, receives quarterly payments of $900.
The organization running Compton Pledge, called the Fund for Guaranteed Income, is building the technological infrastructure necessary to distribute cash payments on a broad scale and has partnered with an independent research group to study the extent to which a minimum income floor can lift families like Leo’s out of poverty. The pilot, which distributes money derived from private donors, is not just about giving people the ability to buy small indulgences. It’s testing whether giving poor families a financial cushion can have a demonstrable impact on their physical and psychological health, job prospects and communities. And perhaps the biggest question of all: Can these cash infusions transcend their status as a small research project in progressive Los Angeles and someday work as a nationwide program funded by taxpayers?
The theory is gaining momentum in the U.S. Six years ago, there were no programs distributing and studying the effects of providing swaths of Americans no-strings-attached cash, according to Stanford’s Basic Income Lab, an academic hub tracking such programs. But now, pilot programs are taking place in roughly 20 cities around the country, from St. Paul, Minnesota to Paterson, New Jersey, with Compton’s exercise serving as the nation’s largest city-based experiment in terms of number of people served. Most of the programs are philanthropically funded—including Compton’s—and distribute different amounts of money to targeted populations, from Black pregnant women to former foster children to single parents. These laboratories for wealth redistribution all have one thing in common: they give some of society’s poorest and most marginalized people cold-hard cash, and then let them spend it however they want.
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