Los Angeles and Oakland seek to join Stockton and Long Beach as cities trying out universal income, guaranteeing money each month to every adult regardless of work or other status.
A call for universal basic income
The mayors of the four Californian cities joined with other cities such as Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Newark in forming Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Led by Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, the group aims to start universal basic incomes (UBI) for all adults with no strings attached and no say in how that money is spent.
While Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, and Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach have yet to implement or propose such a plan, Mayor Tubbs began a pilot in Stockton called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) last year, giving 125 people who made under $46,000 a year a UBI of $500 a month. While the program has noted that more than half of the $500 each month has gone to groceries for families and that recipients ‘sleep easier’ at night, the program has also been found to be riddled with problems and did not help with many surrounding issues such as finding a job.
Support for UBI
Despite the mixed results of the Stockton program, many cities are pulling for a UBI now due to the economic insecurity many are going through now due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the economic downturn, and the George Floyd protests still occurring more than a month since they began.
“This money is not getting wasted,” said Mayor Schaaf in a statement over the weekend. “It is literally giving people the most basic level of economic security for their families.
“It’s really showing how fragile Americans are in their wealth and it’s showing just how big these racial disparities are.”
Mayor Tubbs also weighed in on UBI being expanded following the major problems happening in the U.S. since March.
“The government has to correct the harms it has caused,” noted Mayor Tubbs. “It can’t do everything and it shouldn’t do everything but when government has caused harm, then the government has a role in rectifying that.”
Mayors for Guaranteed Income also notes a growing wealth gap, with white and Asian households making 8 to 10 times more than Hispanic or Black households. The Mayors also point to the fact that 40% of Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency as reasoning behind the UBI in their respective cities.
Many individuals, especially poorer citizens, have largely supported such a program.
“That’s food and a big chunk of rent for a lot of people,” explained Los Angeles community activist Edgar Ramirez in an e-mail with the Globe. “It’s not just a want for many people. It’s turning into a need.”
In addition to the individual cities, an Assembly bill, AB 2712, authored by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), is also pushing for UBI. Under AB 2712, every California resident 18 or older who has lived in the state for at least three years whose income is not 200% higher than the median county income would receive $1,000. However, despite excitement over the bill earlier this year, the bill has not made it out of Committee and has yet to even receive a hearing, despite coronavirus related bills being given preference this session.
Opposition against UBI
Backlash against the Mayors for Guaranteed Income has been strong, with many cities, financial experts, citizens groups, and others opposing it on a variety of grounds.
“For every mayor that thinks this is a good idea, you have 100 other mayors and financial experts and citizens who are dead against this,” said Los Angeles-based economist Dylan Mendel, who has studied universal basic income attempts since the 1990’s, in an interview with the Globe. “It would offer some temporary relief, but it wouldn’t solve anything. We’ve proven that.
“The SEED program failed to raise employment among those on the program, despite making people happier. This is parallel to all other UBI attempts, such as Finland’s attempt a few years ago. And that’s what we need now with a bad economy. We need people back at work and increased job generation, especially with the CARES Act and it’s extra $600 a week for unemployed people ending at the end of July.
“All this would do is raise some spirits and pretty much be the no-limits replacement for food stamps. Everything else would suffer.
And that’s not even getting into logistical nightmares, such as paying for such a program. If all cities followed Stockton’s plan, that’s $6,000 a year for millions of people in LA alone. Or if we did California as a whole under the Assembly plan, it’s $12,000 a year for around 30 million or so people give or take a few million. That’s astronomical. That’s potentially hundreds of billions of tax money. It’s insanity.”
The question of how cities could pay for such a program during such a difficult economic time came up to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income earlier this month, with Mayor Tubbs responding that each city could use different methods, such as forming a group to find the money in the city budget or by creating public or private partnerships.
“It would all be short-term thinking,” continued Mendel. “An expensive long-term situation like this would see giant complications. Look at what happened to Social Security.
“They’re thinking for the now and what can alleviate things now and are not thinking long-term, especially when it comes to getting people back to work or where this money is coming from. I’m not even getting into other issues surrounding this.
“I’m just really happy at how many people oppose this.”
More details about UBI plans in individual cities are expected in the coming weeks, should cities pursue the idea further amid the growing concern.
AB 2712 is not expected to pass in the Legislature.
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