Guaranteed Income, the Possible Antidote to America’s Poverty Crises

Katelynn Croley

By Katelynn Croley, CONTRIBUTOR

Poverty has always been an issue in America, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the Covid-19 pandemic and a majority of people losing their jobs including those already impoverished, the pandemic has made poverty even more salient as a major social problem.
Many solutions have been debated on how to resolve or at least remediate this issue, one of those ideas being to provide people a guaranteed income.
Guaranteed income is not a new concept. However, it became more popularized and well-known in the U.S. when 2020 Democratic presidential and 2021 New York City mayoral election candidate, Andrew Yang proposed to give each American $1,000 a month before the pandemic began.
More recently in the Bay Area, the mayor of Oakland, Calif., Libby Schaaf launched a plan to offer $500 a month to low-income families.
Based on a previous example of a guaranteed income utilized in Canada, it is possible to get a glimpse at what guaranteed income might look like. The positive effects of an experiment in the community of Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s offer insights into how a larger-scale program could benefit people in Oakland.
Furthermore, the news media has a problematic way of looking at people in poverty which makes guaranteed income a hard sell. As of now, Oakland is working with the program, Oakland Resilient Families to give $500 a month to 600 Oakland families for about 18 months or more. Some of the requirements needed to be eligible for the $500 a month is that the family must be of low income and have at least one child under 18 years old.
Another major factor of this plan is that they’re also giving this cash to people of color because they are most likely to be impoverished, according to the Oakland Equity Index.
To get an idea of what such a program could look like we can look at an experimental plan that took place in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada between the years of 1974 and 1979, where low-income residents in the town received guaranteed income for that period of time. Despite only one-third of the population getting the income, this plan had a major effect on the town as a whole.
According to the study that was done on the Dauphin experiment, there was a decrease in people visiting the hospital for issues such as “Accidents, injuries, and mental health diagnosis.” One of the more surprising findings of the study is the correlation between a positive change in “Social attitudes and behaviors” in not only the people who received the income but also the fellow residents in the town who did not receive that income, showing that the plan had an overall net positive for those who were not directly involved.
Seeing the effects this plan had on this small town can give a little insight into how guaranteed income could have beneficial effects on not only the ones directly involved but everyone in the Oakland community. It’s evident that this plan could likely have a direct impact on the health of the low-income residents of Oakland.
Not only would people be healthier, but they also may not have to rely heavily on government-based healthcare designed for impoverished people such as Medi-Cal, which will save the government and taxpayers’ money. On top of this, if the positive social behaviors that are seen in the experiment are also seen when implementing the Oakland plan, then the city will have an overall happier and satisfied population.
Even though there have been proven benefits to guaranteed income plans, it’s hard to put these into practice, especially in America, where such programs are seen as “radical” ideas.
This is not helped by the way the media covers this issue. Both right and left media do not highlight poverty and homelessness as the major issue.
For example, two media stories on the Oakland plan demonstrate the race and class-based emphasis in the media. The CNN article titled “Oakland will give low-income families of color $500 per month, no strings attached,” serves as the first example, chosen for the source’s notoriety in mass media to which the majority of Americans follow. Those who follow CNN describe themselves as Democrats or of the left.
The next article, from the Daily Mail, titled, “City of Oakland Mayor is branded racist for giving families of color $500 a month if they earn under $59,000 with no rules on how they spend it – but offering poor white families nothing,” is seen as a more respected right-wing news media compared to Fox News.
When looking at both of these articles, it was clear that both of them fail to properly illustrate the stakeholders’ point of view, impoverished people and also impoverished people of color. With the Daily Mail article, it is evident that Daily Mail wanted to specifically highlight that this guaranteed income was not going to low-income white families.
Even though this may seem like a positive component trying to uplift the stories of low-income white families in Oakland, it seemed like a way to race bait and get its audience upset about the whole plan entirely. The article did not once promote a similar plan for white people and only talked about how it was unfair for people of color to enjoy the benefits that white families could not have.
When it came to the CNN article, it did a relatively good job informing the public on the specific details of the plan. However, it did not stress why this plan was being implemented by showing the lives of impoverished people. The article failed to get interviews from people who may be receiving this funding and having them explain why this could benefit them and how they’ll be able to afford important necessities such as food, clothes, transportation, etc, that the majority of people take for granted.
The Daily Mail article also fails to explicitly detail how this income can benefit low-income people; nevertheless, this does not excuse CNN for missing the mark as well.
CNN has the responsibility to at least do a better job than right-wing media in illustrating the stakeholders’ point of view because they supposedly do not share the same conservative beliefs that people are undeserving of social safety nets like guaranteed income. This is unfortunate for CNN as they are extremely well-known publication in America.
Without discussing how this would directly affect the stakeholders’ lives, the media struggles with articulating impoverished people’s needs, issues, or human rights. This makes it extremely hard for the public to empathize with residents under these circumstances and makes it difficult to implement plans such as guaranteed income that have proven to be effective.
Hopefully, as more cities including Oakland implement these plans which have proven to be helpful and garner positive press; guaranteed income will be normalized in our society and more people in poverty will get the resources that they desperately need.