First in the Nation: California’s Universal Basic Income Experiment to Begin in 2018

Stockton, California Mayor Michael Tubbs at a League of Women Voters event in 2009. (Unmodified Creative Commons photo by the League of Women Voters of California.

Stockton, California, a city of 300,000 people located about 80 miles east of San Francisco, has become the first city in America to announce plans for a Universal Basic Income program.

Universal Basic Income, or UBI, is a social welfare program that allows a government to unconditionally ensures a sum of money to its citizens on a regular basis.

Proponents argue a UBI can aid in lifting people out of poverty and raising low living standards. Another area rationale behind its implementation is the rise in automation, the process by which traditional jobs are replaced with computer systems.

Some of the big name advocates also come from the tech sector and include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Proponents of the idea, like those mentioned, claim that a UBI would give people an opportunity to innovate, invest in their own skills, and start-up businesses.

Its opponents, however, claim that it would disincentives people from working and question the overall tax burden of funding such a program.

Regardless of the critics, the 27-year-old mayor of Stockton, Michael Tubbs, believes his city is the perfect testing ground for such a program.

Beginning as early as August 2018, a sample of 100 random citizens will begin to receive $500 a month, totaling $6,000 per year. The program will run for at least three years and will cost $1.8 million before implementation fees. While typical welfare programs require recipients to qualify for help based on income, the UBI can be given unconditionally to those in any economic strata.

Stockton was the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy in 2012 until was eclipsed by Detroit’s chapter 9 filing one year later. The citys unemployment rate is 7.3 percent, which is almost double the national rate of 4.3%. Its median household income is $44,797, compared to Californias median of $61,818.

Mayor Tubbs is calling this initiative the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED). It will be primarily funded by the Economic Security Project (ESP), a pro-UBI research group, which has pledged $1 million dollars. The rest will come from private donations and philanthropists.

Tubbs was inspired to push for this program by Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated for a UBI in his final book. He was also motivated by his years spent growing up in poverty, and seeing how much of some of the stress came from trying to stretch dollars to pay for necessities, like bills or school uniforms. When things came up unexpectedly it would cause a lot of hardships,” Tubbs said in an interview with Vox.

Tubbs said he is curious to see how people engage with the community after receiving their unconditional stipend. Im excited about just showing what people do with increased economic opportunity,he said. Being able to devote their time full time as a parent or caregiver, going back to school to reskill, investing in a new business. I know the ingenuity of some of the folks in my city.

The mayor believes the cash supplement will boost citizens upward mobility and expand Stocktons economy. The (economic) stress isnt because people dont have character. Itbecause people dont have cash,he said. Tubbs hopes that after this test successfully concludes, the nation will see the tangible benefits of a UBI and consider implementing it on a larger scale.

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