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Stockton, California To Launch First U.S. Experiment In Basic Income

Screengrab/History NOW/YouTube

The town's 27-year-old mayor is leading the charge and hopes universal basic income will help combat chronic poverty.

Stockton, California has a 27-year-old mayor, and he is bringing fresh thinking to the West Coast town.

Michael Tubbs announced last October that the town would become the first in the U.S. to trial run a universal basic income program, and now he has announced that it will likely begin in August 2018.

In a basic income system, participants get a fixed amount of money that they can use however they want. Early research has shown that people in basic income experiments typically don't spend this money on vices or vacations; instead, they use it to pay for things like home repairs, school expenses, and the costs of starting new businesses.

Elected in 2016 on a primarily economic platform, Tubbs believes that the rising costs of housing and education combined with relatively stagnant wages means it is time to consider a new approach to social welfare.

"In our economic structure, the people who work the hardest oftentimes make the least," Tubbs said. "I know migrant farm workers who do back-breaking labor every day, or Uber drivers and Lyft drivers who drive 10 to 12 hours a day in traffic. You can't be lazy doing that kind of work."

Tubbs knows what it's like to grow up poor and struggle to rise out of poverty. Now a Stanford alum, the young mayor hopes to find a solution for the broken system resulting in generations of Americans trapped in that same situation.

He said he hopes a basic income experiment can help overturn negative assumptions about the ambitions and capabilities of people in poverty.

"For whatever reason, in this country we have a very interesting relationship with poverty, where we think people in poverty are bad people," he said. "In the next couple years, we'll see a larger national conversation."

The program's goal is to help lift those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, but it will benefit the middle and upper-middle classes as well.

Stockton has partnered with the Economic Security Project (ESP), a basic income advocacy group headed up by Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes and others, to launch the trial, which is being called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED). ESP has given the city $1 million to fund the trial.

But universal basic income is only part of the solution, Tubbs acknowledges.

Recently, his office donated $20 million to a program called Stockton Scholars. The program awards a total of $4,000 in aid to four-year college students and $1,000 to 2-year students.

The program will make higher education tuition-free for "the vast majority" of Stockton students who attend college in the California State University system, according to the mayor's office. Over the next five years, Tubbs is pushing the city to help raise a total of $100 million for Stockton Scholars.