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Universal Basic Income to Fight Poverty in Silicon Valley

The opening experiment to universal basic income might be underway. The community of Stockton, Calif., is planning to hand out $500 a month to 100 citizens. This project is being funded by the cofounder of Silicon Valley giant Facebook, Chris Hughes, and his firm, the Economic Security Project. For a few years, Silicon Valley, along with Finland and Canada, has been promoting the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI). The concept is to ensure everyone has enough money to live, so there could be more focus on innovation.

In an interview with CNNMoney earlier this year Hughes said, “It is such a fundamental idea behind America that if you work hard, you can get ahead — and you certainly don’t live in poverty. But that isn’t true today, and it hasn’t been true in the country for decades. I believe that unless we make significant changes today, the income inequality in our country will continue to grow and call into question the very nature of our social contract.”

Why pick Stockton For one, it is comprised of over 70 percent minorities. Also, the median household income is $49,271, compared to the national average of $57,617. Quite simply, according to Economic Security Project co-chair Natalie Foster, “Stockton is a city that looks a lot like the rest of America.”

From Canada to Uganda, experiments with UBI are being conducted. Among other pilot programs, Kenya is partnered with the nonprofit GiveDirectly.org as a part of a 12-year pilot program. This project will be a $30 million endeavor, spanning 120 rural villages, and affecting more than 16,000 people. Villages enrolled in the program will receive $23 per resident per month, or roughly half the average income per resident in rural Kenya. What is unique about the Kenya experiment is it will measure the effect this concept has on the community rather than just the individual.

Associate director of MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, Allison Fahey, says it is too soon to tell if this experiment will reduce poverty. She does say, however, “It has really exciting potential, and this is why it is important to look into. It’s a very radical way of delivering aid. There is an elegance and beauty to how simple it is.”

This excitement was echoed by Mayor Michael Tubbs, who said, “We have a bunch of folks starting off life already behind, born into communities that don’t have a lot of opportunity. My mom always used to say, ‘You have to get out of Stockton.’ … But I want Stockton to be [a place people] want to live in.”

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