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In California, Stockton Experiments With Guaranteed Basic Income


Finland has tried it. Kenya has tried it. Now the city of Stockton, Calif. is going to try it. A few dozen families will get a check, $500 a month, no strings attached. The fact that this money does not come with any requirements makes it different from a traditional welfare program. Stockton is calling it a guaranteed basic income. The city expects to hand out the first checks later this year. Michael Tubbs is the mayor of Stockton. Welcome to the program.

MICHAEL TUBBS: Thanks so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: How is this going to work exactly?

TUBBS: So from now until June, we'll do a community engagement process to come up with the selection criterion for the families who will be selected. Those families will receive $500 a month for the next year to 18 months with the idea to really elevate the story of working-class people everywhere. People are working very hard and struggling and unable to make basic ends meet. So we were able to get a grant of $1 million from the Economic Security Project to really test this idea.

SHAPIRO: So this is not going to cost taxpayers anything? It's being paid for by a grant.

TUBBS: It doesn't cost tax payers anything. It's paid from $1.2 million in philanthropic funding. So the idea is that in the next couple of years, we'll have some data that will tell us whether this is a solution that is viable or not.

SHAPIRO: One principle of capitalism is that if you work hard, you'll get ahead. And you can argue whether or not that that's true. But the idea is that it gives people incentive to go to a job every day and earn money, even though it may be an unpleasant experience. This program and the idea of a guaranteed basic income seemed to guarantee that people will get money whether or not they earn it. Does that undermine the incentive for people to have a job and be productive members of society?

TUBBS: I would disagree. But I also think as a human being, there are some things that you don't earn. Some things are rights. And I do think that people deserve a basic economic floor so the bottom doesn't fall out under them. People working 14-hour days, working incredibly hard and being rewarded with wages that haven't kept up with the cost of inflation over the past two generations, that's problematic for me as well. So I definitely believe in the work ethic of working. And I don't think $500 a month, according to the research and evidence from other trials done over the past three decades, will make it so that people won't work.

In fact, I think will make people work better and smarter and harder and also be able to do things like spend time with their families 'cause we're not robots. We're not just designed just to work all day and run a rat race. We're designed to be in community, to volunteer, to vote, to raise our kids. And I think the more inputs and investments we can give in people to do those things, the better off we are as a community.

SHAPIRO: Stockton declared bankruptcy five years ago. Right now this city of more than 100,000 people has 1 in 4 people living below the poverty line. By any measure, this is a place that is struggling. Do you imagine that a handout like this could turn those trends around?

TUBBS: Again, I would push back a little bit on the characterization as a handout. (Laughter) I would say a hand up or an opportunity. And I would say I think this in concert with many of the other things we're doing will. So just two weeks ago, I announced a $20 million scholarship fund so that every kid who graduates from our larger school district, they get a guaranteed scholarship for four years. We're doing a strategy called Advance Peace to advance our public safety. We have a skills gap report coming out with the University of the Pacific to figure out how do you link people to the jobs that will exist and with the skills to do those jobs.

So the statistics you mentioned are definitely harrowing and mandate that we be bold and creative 'cause the status quo was failing and it doesn't work for anybody.

SHAPIRO: What's the end game here? If this is successful, do you imagine a scenario years from now where everyone who lives in Stockton gets this monthly check or where nobody needs it anymore, you graduate out of it? How does that work eventually?

TUBBS: Well, I think the idea is like in Alaska. So Alaska has this permanent dividend fund that's been around for a generation where just for being an Alaskan citizen, as being part of that social contract, you're given a check every year. And I think for something like this to work on a city level, it has to be a state or national policy. But again, before we can even call for that, we need to see if it works and we need to try it. And if it doesn't work, there's a conversation about, OK, well, why didn't it work and how can this apply to the next solution we need to implement?

SHAPIRO: Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, Calif., thank you for joining us.

TUBBS: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.