Universal Basic Income is About to Roll Out in One U.S. City

Stockton, California, ranked 99th in the top 100 places to live last year, according to U.S. News & World Report. In 2018, though, the city is ranked 124th, a steep decline. That might be why it will soon be the first U.S. city to test Universal Basic Income (UBI).

The city has a lot going against it, costs-wise. Housing prices outpace the national average, and driving is still the only way to get around. The average age is 33.7 years old, and the median income is $46,020 (considered average for people that age). Despite rising average expenses, the job market is dire, and the unemployment rate is far higher than the national average.

Stockton is poised to test Universal Basic Income, just not as we’ve come to know the concept. Rather than dole out $46,020 per year to everyone, it plans to give 100 families $500 per month for two years. This cash has no strings attached, and the program is set to launch this Fall.

But who gets the money? Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) project manager Lori Ospina argues it should be doled out based on very narrow data, taking into consideration age, race, and income level. This is an argument for making Stockton’s UBI trial a test for helping those who need a little assistance getting over their monthly goal line, rather than a handout.

According to The New York Times, mayor Michael Tubbs wants to select people who are more likely to use the extra $500 per month for bills. He sees an issue with making UBI a ‘welfare’ program, especially if race becomes a major point of debate. “The trolls I’ve been dealing with on social media and in real life have very racialized views of how this is going to work. As the first black mayor of this city, it would be very dangerous if the only people to get this were black,” he said.

Some 74 percent of Stockton residents are non-white (40 percent Hispanic, 20 percent Asian, 14 percent African-American), so Stockton’s UBI test is bound to attract comments by some. It’s also a city that recently filed for bankruptcy, so its core issues have nothing to do with skin color.

UBI has its potential problems. It’s perceived by many as a handout; tech pundits also suggest it’s something the United States will adopt once artificial intelligence (A.I.) begins to replace millions of human workers in a variety of industries. As Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says: “There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better, and if my assessment is correct and they probably will happen, than we have to think about what are we going to do about it? I think some kind of universal basic income is going to be necessary.”

In a now-unpublished report from the White House, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers gave some credence to Stockton’s UBI test. “The issue is not that automation will render the vast majority of the population unemployable,” read the report. “Instead, it is that workers will either lack the skills or the ability to successfully match with the good, high paying jobs created by automation. While a market economy will do much of the work to match workers with new job opportunities, it does not always do so successfully, as we have seen in the past half-century.”

Growing up in Stockton, Tubbs said, he saw people working too hard to keep their head above water: “People were working themselves to death. Not working to live a good life, but working just to survive.” This was well before job-replacing A.I. became a more mainstream idea, and predates the housing market crash in the aughts.

Because it’s something that many cities can execute right now, Stockton’s test is probably more critical than one where humans receive a full salary while not working, which is a much harder “lift” from a budget and policy perspective. As we edge into a tomorrow full of smart machines, it’s possible that training for new roles and duties will become less available; and those who don’t receive such training will have trouble landing new raises and bonuses, much less jobs. A bit of help is not a handout, and experts will be watching closely to see how Stockton handles this universal basic income program. A city left in the past might just be our blueprint for the future.

13 Responses to “Universal Basic Income is About to Roll Out in One U.S. City”

  1. Failure – abject failure, is the only option. Just another government yoke around the hard-working honest taxpayer. Of course our beloved “leaders” use your taxes to buy votes with your taxes to get themselves voted back in office so they can continue being a parasite. That is also the reason they favor massive invasion of the country by Illegal Aliens. Allow invasion, give Amnesty, Bada-Boom, Bada-Bing more Democratic voters sucking the life blood out of the country.

    None of these mindless Social Engineering taxpayer boondoggles bode well for the country. They have NEVER worked in the past, to wit, a 20 Trillion dollar National Debt and we have more “poor” and “Underprivileged” than we did when the “Great Society” as put in place by Lyndon Johnson( a raging Democrat) in the 1960’s.

    Also has anyone noticed that almost every “idea” that arose in the 1960’s and the “Flower Children” has been a disastrous failure on all fronts.Of course their children are now our “Leaders”. That should tell you something.

    And you ignore these disastrous trends at your peril, your children’s peril and your grandchildren’s peril.

    Ok Stockton, good luck with all that!


    • Uh, Larry, perhaps you need a reality check. Most of the leaders are Republicans who love to run up the deficit for their wars and no one knows how to rip off the taxpayer better than a Republican. Just look at the latest tax cut; who were the beneficiaries of that? Not honest, hardworking taxpayers.

      This may or may not fail but one’s things for sure. Universal income will never have a chance to see the light of day so long as Republicans run the country.

  2. If qualifying criteria is not strictly income in approving application into the Universal Basic Income program then discrimination will run rampant. Stockton is including age and race as qualifiers? Discrimination the door is open to you.

    • Jeff Chastain

      This will eventually be commonplace. When all manufacturing is automated, and most thinking is done by machines, then there will be no jobs. Everyone will get a check every month and be free to pursue their creative interests.

    • TalesToldAgain

      Not necessarily. If this is a pilot, and they want to get data to use to evaluate differences among subgroups, then they need to have large enough samples in each group to do so. So, if by income eligibiity only a certain subgroup had enough participants, they should be able to select participants from other subgroups. You can call that discrimination, or a well designed pilot.

  3. JohnDoe

    I read this article thinking it would reflect a real attempt at this, and of course its political and identity driven. To me Universal means ‘all citizens’ of the locality, a rebate like Alaska, which is the nations first Universal basic income. Stockton and its Mayor, needs to release the criteria on how these families are selected, for transparency. Because what will happen, and it always does, is nepotism and corruption will take place and soon the 100 families will be connected to someone in government.

  4. TooBad

    While I can commend the heart of those trying to help others to a better life, this social experiment is bound to fail like similar ones for lack of understanding of human nature. You cannot give something for nothing to a group of people and have a thriving community. If you reward people for doing nothing they will gravitate toward laziness. Review the history of Jamestown and you will see what they learned after starting as a benevolent communism; where every person was expected to work to their capabilities and every person shared equally in the results. They nearly starved to death due to human nature; why work hard when I’ll get the same as another person; why work hard when my extra produce will go to others. You cannot motivate a community to thrive through sharing. You can help individuals if you care enough to personally extend yourself to help another. There is a difference between handouts and helping people navigate through society to a better place. Those of us who have been successful in this country have had that help from good parents, mentors, religious leaders, community groups, and/or teachers.

    • Jamestown is a poor analogy. Laziness in that wilderness settlement killed others, everyone was literally dependent on one another. Now we live in a completely different society, the richest nation in history.

      Sharing this already collected wealth is a good use of funds. It provides a social safety net; allowing one to seek the work they prefer, rather than the work they must take. However, the Stockton example seems somewhat contrived to me, because it’s a trial that inherently picks winners and losers. It should truly be universal, given to every citizen regardless of circumstances.

  5. I’m hearing we need more immigrants because we have to keep the tax base growing. So if jobs go away why do we need more people that won’t be working. Where does this UBI come from?

  6. For all those who are committed to sharing the wealth, I mean REALLY committed I have a suggestion. Sell everything you own and donate all of it to the “poor”. That will show us how committed you are.

    It is easy to be committed to sharing other peoples wealth. It costs you nothing.

    And please name the country in history who survived long term raging Socialism/Communism (which is what UBI really is ). UBI is one of those things that has no clean end to pick it up.

    UBI is another small step toward the abyss.

  7. Hey Jeff,

    I got to wondering where oh where are these “checks” coming from? Do we now have a new tree in California called the UBI Benefit Tree that grows UBI checks so that people can just go into the UBI orchard and pick as many as they want.

    I need to get one of those.