The big idea behind the Stockton Demonstration

11. 21. 2019

At ESP, we are all about big ideas, and we’re also passionate about finding real ways that they can build economic power for all Americans. And frankly, if we want to make a big idea like a guaranteed income happen nationwide, there are some deeply held beliefs about race and poverty that need to change first.

Namely, the persistent myth that communities of color and the poor spend money more wastefully than wealthy white people has allowed politicians to use race and class to divide voters and shrink the social safety net.

Part of what makes the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) such an informative and unique example of the transformative power of cash is the data we now have around a diverse group of recipients.

The SEED Data Dashboard shows that Stockton residents who receive unconditional cash are spending it overwhelmingly on food, home goods, clothes and utility bills. This speaks to common sense — if you had an extra $500, wouldn’t you catch up on bills, or get something practical? It also speaks to the stark reality that Americans experience, of being unable to afford the basics while working full time.

These statistical results are reinforced by the compelling stories told by the recipients themselves, who are sharing how just $500 in extra cash every month has transformed their lives. “I sleep better. My mind’s not racing all the time, thinking about next month’s rent,” says Stockton resident Lorrine Paradela, featured in a story by Fast Company.

“It’s not just about getting rid of that $400 emergency,” explains SEED researcher Dr. Amy Castro Baker of the University of Pennsylvania in a piece by CityLab, “It’s about what space does that free up for you, as a human being to engage in your community and family in a different type of way.” With this increased mental bandwidth, people are truly connecting with each other.

In Stockton, the extra cash has allowed residents like Tomas Vargas, Jr. to do just that; spend more time with his family. In a report on the demonstration by CBS News Vargas explains how he was able to quit multiple side gigs to focus on getting a higher paying job with more responsibilities. This change allowed him to spend more time with his family. “I can actually take a breath and realize how great my kids are,” he says.

Together, these stories and data can change how we think and talk about the most vulnerable Americans. We invite you to share them with your network because the narratives we hold about each other determine more than our attitudes, they result in the economic world we live in tomorrow. A brighter future is possible — but it won’t happen if we don’t dispel the stereotypes that are holding us back from becoming a more trusting society.