Essays for a Guaranteed Income

A partnership with Mayors for Guaranteed Income

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a supporter of Universal/Guaranteed Basic Income. I think most of you reading this understand why, but if you are new to my work, I am happy to elaborate. We live in an unfair and unequal world. A few of us are born with advantages but many of us are not. We have a responsibility to each and every person who survives without a safety net. 

If we live in a world where billionaires spend their obscene fortunes launching themselves to the outer edge of space to stroke their fragile egos, we can live in a world that ensures every person has access to a guaranteed income and the ability to have their basic needs met--a safe home, adequate food, health care, and the basic comforts most of us take for granted. 

When I was approached by Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI) to partner on a writing project, I was immediately interested. They focus on the similar, but slightly different, guaranteed income instead of UBI. Guaranteed income has its roots in the racial justice movement, with Martin Luther King Jr.,, the Black Panthers and the National Welfare Rights Organization’s Johnnie Tillmon all advocating for it as the most effective tool to eradicate poverty and achieve racial and gender equity in our economy. 

The main distinction between UBI and guaranteed income is that the latter is targeted, meaning it has an outsized benefit to people of color and women since they’re more likely to be forced into poverty by the racism and misogyny embedded into socioeconomic fabric of our culture. That said, the ideas are more similar than they are different. Both concepts are predicated on the idea that people are inherently deserving of the dignity and humanity afforded by economic stability.

MGI is an initiative started by former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, who at 26 was the youngest person to serve as the mayor of a major city and the first Black mayor of Stockton. During his tenure, he led the creation of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, the first mayor-led guaranteed income pilot in the country. 

The initial results of the two-year project prove that the idea works. Recipients of guaranteed income found full-time jobs at twice the rate of non-recipients. People reported an increased ability to take risks and dream bigger. They spent more time with their kids and stayed home if they were sick. Perhaps most importantly, they went from being mostly unwell in terms of mental health to being mostly well. As anyone who has ever been poor knows, it is stressful. It requires an incredible amount of time and energy. The relatively modest amount of $500 a month had a tremendous impact in alleviating the anxiety that comes with staying up at night wondering how you’ll pay your bills or feed your family or deal with the unexpected crises we encounter over the course of our lives.

Now, MGI is working with mayors across the country to pilot programs locally and push for a guaranteed income nationally. As part of that work, I’ve partnered with them at The Audacity on a writing project to select five essays or stories on the loose prompt of UBI/guaranteed income. Each selected author will receive a payment of $2,000, and have their story published in this newsletter, this fall. Submissions are open now through September 1, and should be no longer than 2,000 words.

I’ve deliberately kept the prompt vague. I am not looking for a wish list of what you’d do with some extra cash. Instead, I want to encourage you to go a little deeper. What would life look like for you or people in your community with economic stability? How would your life choices and priorities shift? What sacrifices have you made without economic stability and how has that affected your outlook? What would the world look like if everyone had what they needed? Who would we all be in a world where wealth was distributed rather than hoarded?

Your piece needs to engage with some facet of UBI/guaranteed income, but beyond that, the substance of your piece is up to you. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Please submit your essays via Submittable: