The mayor of Stockton, Calif. wants to provide a universal basic income for the city's poorest residents.
Starting this year, an experimental program called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) will pay $500 a month to a few hundred of the city's low-income residents, no strings attached.
The idea behind universal basic income, or UBI, is to provide a degree of economic security for the most vulnerable people in a community. The goal is to counteract the destabilizing forces of globalization and technological innovation that have lead to job loss and wage stagnation for countless workers, according to CNBC.
A lot of big names in Silicon Valley support UBI — Mark Zuckerberg advocated for the concept in his commencement speech at Harvard in 2017. Another Facebook executive who supports providing people with free money and no restrictions is Chris Hughes, who personally donated $1 million to the Economic Security Project, a program he co-chairs, which will provide funding for Stockton's program to get off the ground this year.
It's no accident that much of the support for UBI comes from Silicon Valley, where the potential for mass unemployment is starker than most other places in the U.S. Major companies there are in neck-to-neck competition to create labor-saving technologies — such as self-driving cars — that will inevitably replace greater numbers of humans with automation and robots.
Stockton is a town already facing these problems — the city has been plagued by a lack of job opportunities, low wages and high housing prices as Silicon Valley exploded around it, replacing once attainable middle-class security with a job market that requires highly skilled workers and relies heavily on automation, according to KQED News. The Bay Area city even had to declare bankruptcy in 2012.
This slow economic crumble is what inspired Michael Tubbs, the city's 27-year-old mayor, to start SEED. His own experience growing up in Stockton seeing his mother struggle to provide for their family on a cashier's job at a Discovery Zone, despite working long hours, made him realize something had to change.
“I think Stockton is absolutely ground zero for a lot of the issues we are facing as a nation,” Tubbs said in an interview with KQED.
UBI is not a new concept and support for it has historically been partisan. Republican President Richard Nixon tested UBI in several cities from 1968 to 1971 and found it did not negatively affect work ethic. Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. also supported basic economic security for all Americans, believing racial and economic inequality to be intimately intertwined.
Other countries like Finland and Canada started to test out UBI programs last year, but results from the experiments are not yet fully realized.
If Stockton's SEED program yields promising results, it may put itself on the international map.