By: Jasmin Prasad 

Imagine being able to breathe after years of disparity: with no help from those in your community who would otherwise criminalize you for nothing other than your socioeconomic status. This is unfortunately the experience of many nationwide, but thankfully, the recipients of Stockton UBI were able to take a breath.

Guaranteed income programs are coming to different parts of California: namely Oakland and Marin County. It is important to note, however, that this does not come randomly: it is after the success of the UBI implemented in Stockton by the previous Mayor Michael Tubbs. 

The Oakland and Marin County UBI’s are being conducted in a way similar to the one proposed by Tubbs; where in Stockton, $500 was given to 125 people. In Oakland $500 is being given to 600 people, and in Marin, $1,000 is being given to 125 people. 

The success and influence of the Stockton UBI obviously begs the question: what made it work? 

Perhaps it was steering away from the criminalization of the poor: trusting that these individuals will put the money to good use. This is opposed to the backwards -- and criminalized -- thinking that money given to poor people would go to alcohol and drugs.

For some, it may be hard to wrap their head around the idea that those beneath the median household income would actually use the money for good -- after all, this is a Randian capitalist’s nightmare.

It is important to recognize here, the difference between the UBI conducted by former Mayor Tubbs and that proposed by former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang. 

Professor Sharmila King, the Chair/Professor of Pacific’s Economics department comments on the funding for Yang’s proposal: “I don’t know how [Yang] would finance it… through borrowing funds from the national government, the federal government, or increases in taxes on the ultra rich.”

Conversely, the Stockton UBI was funded from donor money.

 “I think there was a lot of angst [about Tubb’s proposal]... people asking why they are paying for it when they weren’t. It was donor funds,” King says.  

A quick look at the statistics should convince anyone who is still skeptical about the success of a UBI program. According to SEED (the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration), less than 1% of the money given was spent on alcohol or tobacco. Where, 37% went to food, 22% to home goods and clothes (which included dollar stores and Walmart), 10% to auto costs, and 11% to utilities. It was also reported that those who received the money went from “part time to full time employment at more than twice the rate of those who didn’t...a 12 percentage point increase in the recipients full-time employment.” 

The most critical part of the data collected by SEED doesn’t necessarily deal with the data. Those who received the money saw improved health coupled with less anxiety.

According to an article written by NPR, a team of independent researchers found the same results when studying Stockton analytics for a year since February 2019. 

NPR found that “full-time employment rose... financial, physical, and emotional health improved… [there are] new opportunities for self determination.” 

Money was able to go to areas that were otherwise ignored like “caring for ill family members, school or sports supplies, transport to doctor’s appointments... commonly utilized by women who typically bear the brunt of most unpaid work.” 

It is pertinent to note that UBI should not then be considered as a replacement for safety nets or welfare programs: many of these are safety programs intended for the survival of children and families.

King mentions a great example of how UBI acting as a replacement is disastrous in the case of emergency. “For about 40% of Americans -- if they had a $400 emergency, let’s suppose a tire goes out or their car breaks down -- they wouldn’t be able to afford to get a replacement because they wouldn’t have the cash on hand,” says King.

Having guaranteed income is especially critical during the times of economic turmoil the country has seen due to COVID-19. However, there are still proponents who spout claims of possible inflation.

“$500 in the grand scheme of things is not a lot of money. If you limit the $500 to those who are close to the poverty line right below median income and don’t give it to those individuals who don’t need it then it’s very unlikely that it’s going to be enough to push up the inflation rate,” King warrants. 

With some of the most common criticisms dispelled and with the statistics given, it is still clear that there is more work that needs to be done. Best put in the words of King, the fact that 40% of Americans wouldn’t be able to sustain an accident monetarily “is a disgrace in the richest country in the world.”

Criminalization of the poor does nothing to reduce societal ills or to empower them to lift them out of poverty. 

“We hear all the time that the poor are just lazy… it’s not laziness whatsoever, it's because they are trapped in their situation and they're trapped by the fact that they’re struggling from day to day,” says King.

Homeless man on street