Cities are paving the way towards basic income policy

Release of “Basic Income in Cities: A Guide to City Experiments and Pilot Projects”

While at the federal level, progressives are proposing a basic income policy as part of a Green New Deal to counter soaring economic inequality, cities across the country are experimenting to determine what exactly a basic income policy could look like and what it could achieve. For example, what are the tradeoffs of different basic income amounts on desired outcomes? How would basic income influence recipients’ civic engagement and sense of meaning in a culture so tied to formal employment? How might basic income affect health and health expenditure in a country with runaway healthcare costs? How could it expand economic mobility in regions with different opportunity structures?

To facilitate city experimentation, the Stanford Basic Income lab and the National League of Cities has just released a Toolkit entitled Basic Income in Cities: A Guide to City Experiments and Pilot Projects.”

Cities are ideal laboratories to pilot test basic income designs. Dozens of rigorous studies across the globe already demonstrate that cash-based programs are effective policy tools: they consistently reduce poverty and improve wellbeing while both maintaining productivity and minimizing bureaucratic overhead. Through pilots, cities can build on this evidence base and test how basic income works in U.S. contexts.

This past summer Alderman Ameya Pawar of Chicago proposed pilots of guaranteed income and a modernized Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as smart policies for Chicago’s future. He seeks policies that protect citizens against economic precarity and increasing automation.

In Stockton, CA, Mayor Michael Tubbs is exploring cutting-edge social policy to lead his city into the 21st century. In February 2019, his basic income pilot, called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), will give one hundred Stocktonians $500 per month for 18 months. SEED will also host art projects and community discussions on the potential of basic income to instill economic security and dignity as bedrocks of our society.

Next week, the Magnolia Mother’s Trust will begin giving a cohort of low-income black mothers in Jackson, MS $1,000 per month, no strings attached, to empower them to choose their own futures and flourish as leaders in their communities.

A major appeal of basic income is its flexibility to meet diverse goals, from expanding access to housing and childcare to advancing education and civic engagement. In addition to informing national debates on basic income policy, pilots of basic income allow cities to test innovative strategies to address their local needs.

But basic income pilots raise a host of questions, both political and logistical. For example, what is the evidence that basic income could address a city’s specific goals? How would the pilot be funded? How should recipients of the basic income be selected?

The Toolkit “Basic Income in Cities: A Guide to City Experiments and Pilot Projects” provides cities guidance in answering such questions and running a successful pilot project. The first half of the Toolkit describes the features of basic income policy, its history, its aims, and related policies. It presents some of the existing evidence on basic income and highlights what is yet to be discovered and achieved through experimentation. The Toolkit illustrates three basic income models: the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, an ongoing policy since 1982; Stockton SEED launching in 2019; and Y-Combinator Research’s randomized controlled trial of basic income being conducted in two U.S. states in the coming years.

The second half of the Toolkit offers practical recommendations for designing, implementing, evaluating, and communicating a basic income pilot. It describes strategies for identifying pilot goals and collaborating with key stakeholders, including other governmental agencies. It then details research designs linked to cities’ pilot goals. The guide walks the reader through the nuts and bolts of designing a program, including choosing the income amount, target population, frequency of payments, duration of the pilot, and pilot name. It gives tips for safeguarding participants’ existing benefits and suggests add-ons and wrap-around services that may strengthen the impacts on pilot recipients and communities. The Toolkit concludes with guidance on communicating the pilot and its findings to recipients, the media, policy makers and other stakeholders.

You can download “Basic Income in Cities: A Guide to City Experiments and Pilot Projects” and find a table of ongoing pilots across the U.S. and Canada at Questions can be directed to or