By Tara Abraham
43.5 million Americans live below the poverty line, according to an article published by USA Today. It is atrocious that in one of the world’s wealthiest countries –– where Jeff Bezos can be a billionaire by exploiting others for personal gain –– that so many Americans cannot afford basic necessities, like shelter, affordable healthcare and food.
We may all be struggling during the pandemic, but low-income families are left more vulnerable in this crippling economy. Low-income households deserve a guaranteed basic income monthly unconditional cash payments with no strings attached, especially if they live below the poverty line. A guaranteed income will supplement, rather than replace, the existing social safety net.
As former Stockton Mayor Michal Tubbs states in a Bloomberg Citylab article, “We need a social safety net that goes beyond conditional benefits tied to employment, works for everyone, and begins to address the call for racial and economic justice through a guaranteed income.”
An article by the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story of Lorrine Paradela, a resident at Stockton, who “used to lie awake at night, thoughts racing over how she would pay her expenses. She would get up in the morning exhausted.”
Paradela worked two jobs: one with special needs students and the other in a home for autistic teenagers. She is a single mother of two kids and took care of her mother, who has cancer. And even with working two jobs, Paradela was barely scraping by and felt embarrassed because she was financially struggling.
But in 2018, things started looking up for Paradela when she was randomly selected out of a group of 125 participants to be a part of a program that gives unconditional cash payments of $500 every month.
This program called Stockton Economic Empowerment (SEED) was the nation’s first mayor-led guaranteed-income demonstration, led by former mayor Michael Tubbs. The money comes from individual and foundation philanthropy, with the initial $1 million in funding coming from the Economic Security Project, co-chaired by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.
According to a discussion paper published by SEED, SEED is born out of the simple belief that the “best investments we can make are in our people.”
“The stakes are simply too high for the single mother working two jobs and still living below the poverty line; for the man who spends four hours commuting daily for a job that doesn’t cover his rent – for us not to try something new.”
While a guaranteed income cannot solve societal problems, it can “increase stability for low-income households reaffirming their dignity,” according to the discussion paper.
The guaranteed income is meant to be a hand-up, not a hand-out, as it will “empower its recipients financially and reveal that poverty results from a lack of cash, not character.”
Some of you may be perplexed by the idea of unconditional cash payments. Why give people an incentive not to work or free money that they can misuse?
If you think this, then you must also be driven by the ideology of pulling yourself by the bootstraps. To this, I ask you what if people don’t have boots? What then?
Please don’t blame the poor for our economy’s faults; poverty is not a personal choice but a reflection of a flawed society.
As stated in a New York Times opinion article by Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes, “If we want to create a more resilient economy and country, a guaranteed income should be permanent American policy, not just an emergency measure to help during this pandemic.”
It may take years before we know the full results of the SEED. Contrary to stereotype wrongfully attached to the indigent, Stockton’s recipients typically spent 40 percent on food each month and only about 2 percent on “self-care or recreation,” according to a Bloomberg Businessweek article.
The extra money made significant improvements to recipients because they didn’t have to worry as much about their finances. “They reported that their stress was reduced, that they could work more easily and stay healthier, and that they had more time with their families.”
Varying forms of guaranteed income were tested in other areas of America and the world. Since 1997, tribal members in North Carolina were given an average of $4,000 and $6,000 a year through the Eastern Bank of Cherokee Indians Casino Dividend, as stated by a VOX article. Economists found that it doesn’t make them work less, but it did lead to improved education and mental health and decreased addiction and crime.
As for Lorrine Paradela, the Stockton resident, “The extra money made it a little bit easier to sleep, to breathe better.” She was able to get a new car after getting in a car crash. She could cut back on one of her jobs and spend more time with her children. Paradela also returned to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Before leaving office, Michael Tubbs started the Mayors for Guaranteed Income coalition, intending to “invest in additional guaranteed-income pilots and advocate for state and federal cash-based policies,” according to the TIMES article. As of now, 34 mayors around the nation joined the coalition. Many of these programs benefit from private funding and philanthropic investment with public dollars.
According to the Bloomberg City Lab article, “As we enter a second year of the pandemic, more than 10 million Americans are unemployed and 26 million hungry.” The introduction of stimulus checks during the pandemic gives us a glimpse into an America that values its people by giving guaranteed income to low-income households.
Among all the pain and sorrow unleashed by the coronavirus, we mustn’t ignore what many low-income people knew all along, that our current economic system is fragile and deeply flawed.
It is high time that the United States government upholds our constitution’s values that we have “certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” –– which has far too often left low-income families behind.
Implementing guaranteed income nationwide will create a morally just and resilient economy that works for all Americans.
Tara Abraham is a third-year transfer student pursuing a Communications major at UC Davis. She was born and raised in the Sacramento area.
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