A few months ago I called Mayor Michael Tubbs, the charismatic young mayor of Stockton, CA, to hear his thoughts about the universal basic income, an idea that my colleagues at the Economic Security Project and I were exploring.
It turned out he was a step ahead of me. He told me that he’d been tracking the conversation ever since he read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? in which Dr. King makes the case for a guaranteed income to abolish poverty.
Many of us came to the idea of a guaranteed income out of a concern of robots stealing our jobs, but Mayor Tubbs understood this isn’t just an idea to solve for a future state of joblessness. Like my colleagues and I, he believes it to be an immediate strategy to fight against poverty and income insecurity today.
It’s because of this vision and leadership that I’m so thrilled to announce our $1 million foundational grant to Mayor Michael Tubbs and the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition to demonstrate the impact of a guaranteed income.
The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) is the first ever public-private initiative of its kind in the nation. It will provide direct, unconditional cash transfers to a select number of residents over several years. And Mayor Tubbs is the first mayor in modern American history to step up to provide a guaranteed income to the residents of his city. We hope more will follow.
My co-founders at the Economic Security Project, Chris Hughes and Dorian Warren and I have been inspired by the Stockton revitalization already in progress and the focus of Mayor Tubb’s team on asking the people of Stockton to be the authors of their community’s future. Collectively, we want to lift up the stories of resiliency and determination we have already begun to hear. These stories will help us understand if and how a guaranteed income can help Stocktonians — and potentially all Americans — make ends meet.
You can read more about the demonstration and donate to it here. 100% of your funds will directly to the pockets of Stocktonians.
Our goal in providing this grant is to explore and learn from the impact of these cash transfers — and the economic security they provide — in the lives of Stockton residents. The initiative will begin with a 6–9 month design period to enable the communities served to shape the program parameters and details including eligibility, payment amount, and who will work as research and independent evaluating partners.
Stockton joins other pilots already underway, including in Canada, Finland, and the Y Combinator initiative here in the United States. While the existing pilots will provide critical data on the impact of cash, the Stockton demonstration will also tell the stories (good, bad, and everything in between) about the experience of individuals and communities when they receive a guaranteed income. As students of successful social change efforts throughout history, we know it’ll take both — the data and stories from those most affected — to move a guaranteed income forward.
When we first launched the Economic Security Project almost a year ago, we were unsure where our journey would take us. How might a guaranteed income work, and what can we learn from similar policies today, like the Earned Income Tax Credit?
After hearing from families struggling in places like Ohio, Alaska, and California, we came to understand the urgency to find solutions now. We believe the evidence from existing cash assistance programs shows conclusively that most people know best what they need. We know that this is a policy intervention that can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, and we should give them a chance to pursue their dreams. After rediscovering the social justice roots of a guaranteed income and its near success in the 1970s, we have come to believe that with a little creativity and political muscle, it’s possible to build a coalition in support of an evidence-based expansion of the safety net to meet the challenges of a changing economy.
At this point in our journey, we believe unconditional cash has the power to end systemic poverty and rebuild the middle class.
And now, Mayor Michael Tubbs and his team will lead the way.