Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition have won a $1 million foundational grant designed to help demonstrate the benefits of a guaranteed basic income.
Guaranteed basic income is a concept relatively unknown in the U.S., despite pilot programs being underway in Finland and Canada. What it means at its simplest is that citizens get a certain amount of money each month to spend how they see fit, with the dual purpose of stimulating the economy while simultaneously increasing individual financial security.
Both Mayor Tubbs and the Economic Security Project, which is the basic income advocacy group that chose Stockton for the grant, say the city is a fit for the demonstration because its diversity and economic challenges make it a microcosm for the rest of the nation.
Many of the logistics still need to be determined — the next step is a six to nine month planning process in which officials will decide the details — but what is known is that a number of Stockton residents will soon receive $500 a month from the grant. In turn, advocates will later seek to convey stories about how the money impacted their lives.
Natalie Foster, co-chair of the Economic Security Project, says the goal is to use personal examples to spread awareness of the benefits of guaranteed basic income, noting that economic initiatives are almost always discussed exclusively in terms of data. “I think data is important, but data alone does not drive things forward in the world,” Foster says.
As for how a guaranteed basic income program would be funded long-term, Foster says there is some precedent in this country. She points to The Alaska Permanent Fund, which started in 1976 and requires, in part, that a portion of state oil revenues be paid to residents each year. A carbon tax or a tax on stock transactions are potential funding sources elsewhere, but before the question of how is answered, Foster says it’s important to ask why by fostering agreement that basic guaranteed income is worthwhile.
Another quality that made Stockton a fit for the grant was Mayor Tubbs’ ongoing support for basic income, a concept he was first inspired to support by Martin Luther King, Jr., who was himself a proponent. Tubbs says he was also inspired by his childhood, during which he watched his single mom work multiple jobs to support his family and still often struggle to make ends meet.
“I would argue that people who work the hardest often earn the least,” Tubbs says. “There’s not something inherently bad about people in poverty, just like there’s not something inherently good about people with money.”
Tubbs is hopeful that additional philanthropic support will allow Stockton to expand the program beyond the initial grant. Foster also notes that there is significance in Tubbs age. At 27, he is the youngest mayor of a city with more than 100,000 residents in U.S. history, and Foster says this gives him deeper insight into the widening income gaps in many parts of the country.
“I think it’s very telling that we have the youngest mayor of a major U.S. city supporting this first,” Foster says. “He is of a generation that will do worse than their parents. Millennials are going into an economy set up for them to fail.”
In a fact sheet about this effort, Tubbs notes that pilot programs similar to the one being created in Stockton have netted positive results for communities, and that “economists across leading institutions have deduced time and again that when people in poverty are given unconditional cash, they take care of their most basic needs, save for the future and use their free time to focus on climbing up the economic ladder.” Guaranteed basic income is, however, likely to draw ideological criticisms from those who oppose safety net programs, but what the demo in Stockton wants to do is create counterarguments through illustrative success stories.
The mayor says he is well aware that Stockton has been associated with negativity in the past, due to its municipal bankruptcy and high rate of violence, but his hope for this program is that Stockon can start being ground zero for something positive.