Basic Income Proposals in California

A convergence of empathy & research

California has been an early leader in the discussion around basic income due to a tech savvy population looking to experiment with new ideas in cities and localities across the state. It has been long predicted that advances in technological capacity would result in job losses and shift around our employment demand needs significantly. In fact this argument was a central thesis to the works of civil rights pioneers like Martin Luther King jr and Bayard Rustin in the late 1960’s and their Poor People’s Campaign. The burst of technology’s important role in our lives has galvanized local political leaders and socially minded technology entrepreneurs to revisit the policy of basic income to provide an economic floor to communities affected by rapid automation. The basic income pilot projects currently being worked on or implemented take a variety of forms in how they’re constructed, here are some unique ways their proponents have approached this problem.

Stockton, California is home to one of the earliest basic income projects in the state. Michael Tubbs the mayor of Stockton implemented the program called Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration which randomly selected residents to receive a $500 a month basic income. This program has shown promising results since its implementation in February 2019 including helping recipients manage the highs and lows of economic fluctuations and helping reduce anxiety and depression in recipients. Crucially this basic income project discovered that a persistent critique of UBI, namely the notion that recipients would become complacent and not pursue employment was rebuffed with recipients increasing their employment by 12%.

Recently in another part of California, Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced a city run basic income experiment and it has been approved by the local city council officials. The Los Angeles experiment which is tentatively titled the BIG LEAP (Basic Income Guaranteed: LA Economic Assistance Pilot will distribute $1,000 a month to 2,000 randomly selected people living in Los Angeles. Mayor Garcetti offered an explanation of why the city was pursuing basic income: "For families who can't think past the next bill, the next shift or the next health problem that they have, we can give them the space to not only dream of a better life, but to actualize it." In the aftermath of a Pandemic that afflicted Californians and people around the world immensely, Garcetti is taking a positive step towards helping Angelinos defeat economic insecurity and poverty.

South of LA, in the city of Compton another basic income experiment is under works called The Pledge Program. This program, which was authorized by the outgoing mayor of Compton, Aja Brown, is structured to provide 800 families or 1,770 participants $300-600 a month. Compton has utilized $8 million dollars in private money to implement this program and is delivering the basic income in ways familiar to many Californians, through Venmo or Paypal. This ease of delivery and its smooth integration into how people really live and ultimately pay for things they need will be worth paying attention to for future policy makers looking to reduce friction for recipients.

Now that results have been arriving from basic income experiments around the world, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom has announced a plan to fund basic income pilots all across the state in various localities. The $35 million dollar proposal in the Governor’s budget would help cities/localities set up a basic income pilot project but require them to use their own funds or get a 3rd party to provide funds to provide recipients. This proposal should it pass in the Governor’s 2021 budget will provide more insights into basic income working across the state in the many diverse cities, environments, and ways of life that exist within the state. This is definitely a budget item worth pushing the California assembly to adopt and pushing local leaders to seek this funding to run experiments in their localities.