There is a viable means of helping lift families out of poverty or prevent the perpetuation of generational poverty in America, whether or not we feel empathy over greed, misinformation and fear and an iota of guilt. The proposed pathway to uplifting families and protecting children from poverty is called ‘Universal Basic Income'[UBI]. Many opponents call it a ‘crutch’- yet another handout.
Depending on whether you see a glass as half-full or half-empty, will influence your perspectives surrounding UBI. Universal Basic Income is not a novel idea. It was first proposed by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early days of the civil rights movement. It was/is seen as a viable and just way to lift black and other poor people out of poverty. More importantly, children are afforded greater opportunities to live and grow outside of the effects of being poor.
UBI is a government backed program that provides guaranteed money to families most in need. And why not? We fight for ‘living wages’, asking that salary/income helps workers and families meet basic needs and living expenses in alignment with the current economy. What about those who are unemployed, are unable to find employment or lack skills to work in high income fields. What about the millions of black and brown people impacted by discrimination, racism and limited employment opportunities. What about parents who are unable to work due to disabilities, including the absence of affordable childcare.
Statistically, through systemic and structural design, black and brown populations have been assigned to being among the most poor groups in society. However, the notion of ‘universal’, means that this income stream is guaranteed to every citizen without focusing on one particular group. UBI is provided to everyone in every community, regardless of socioeconomic or employment status.
A courageous pioneer championed UBI policy in Stockton, California.The city’s first African-American Mayor dared to offer $500 each month to families most in need. Determined first was the median income of the city’s population. Then, the threshold for income eligibility was determined. That’s it! A dream was born and the goal was clear: turn around the city and improve the lives of its residents, thus also changing the public’s perception of the city. Certain ‘pockets’ of the city[and a host of others nationwide] became plagued by high unemployment rates, crime, homelessness.
In a nutshell, as blacks moved into cities, looking for opportunity and potential to reap the rewards of achieving the Dream of every American, whites left. They took their businesses, industries, jobs and opportunities, with them. What was left was a city with residents unable to thrive. It was a city of little hope. Even where educational opportunities existed, it, too, was not there for the people there. What happened in that city, was the same as when we go into foreign nations, boast democracy, and fairness, and promises of ‘good life’, if only they believe, help us achieve our goals. We turn their nations into true war-torn areas, disrupt and then assure them that we will be there for them as they fight for freedoms in their own country.
The problem with that is that we lie to them, because our promises to them were not kept. When we are done, achieved our goals, or worse yet, failed to achieve our ultimate goals, we ghost them. We abandon them at the very basic level by not helping them rebuild their lives-infrastructure. When neighbors move in, that we are unfamiliar with or when we are afraid to confront our hypocrisy, we leave. Isn’t the way to a better, more equitable and democratic society made navigable through the infrastructure? Roads, schools, health care, jobs, businesses, homes are parts of that which makes a better future possible. Leave the people with opportunity, a fair chance, better than we found it.
In America, this is a similar scenario, except our occupation was all-inclusive. We had instituted legalized apartheid, and when people tried to exercise any rights, their mobility was limited. As in other countries, this country were able to convince the masses that what they were doing was in their best interest and serving them well, as campaigns deepened. Bringing in pseudo-science and caricature, they blamed the victims.
This leader dared to imagine a way to bring some, if not all, families out from under the confines of circumstances historically reserved for them. He recognized that for people to survive, dream, work and achieve, they all need some ‘bootstraps’. Bootstraps for white people meant access, opportunity, a little self-help, and the advantages of whiteness. If a white poor person, an immigrant with a heavy accent, names could be Americanized, and assimilation was the route to the Dream. They blended in. It was their pigmentation that led the way- into the best schools, jobs, neighborhoods, whereby free will and success was less obscure. Not so for too many poor black people or most people of color. As their skin color was immediately recognizable, the American Dream excluded and evaded them, with oppressive structural barriers.
A plan without sufficient dedicated funding, private investors came on board with this vision. The investors, believers in UBI as a promising public policy, were primarily Silicon Valley tech giants, such as the CEO at Twitter and Facebook Co-Founder. Along with a few progressive organizations committed to eliminating the associated challenges and disadvantages that can accompany poverty, the plan was given its official start.
In just a few years, American families were able to withstand AND survive through the massive economic devastation caused by COVID-19. Along with government stimulus payments and other incentives offered by the federal government, the supplemental income from the city of Stockton serves as a promising example of how UBI can be a cushion for some of the unexpected, but necessary expenses in people’s lives. Families reported experiencing less stress and anxiety related to lack of money to meet basic needs, had fewer disagreements and yelled at their children much less often. They all attributed it to UBI.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans experienced dramatic declines in food shortages, financial instability and anxiety after receiving stimulus checks. Moreover, the data shows us that millions of children, African-American and Latinx, were kept out of poverty from the Government incentives provided during the pandemic.
If we were to correlate these findings with the impact of UBI provided in the city of Stockton, tremendous benefits were reaped by families who received the guaranteed monthly income with no strings attached to its receipt. What happened for people of Stockton, California is inspiring, and it is now being replicated and adopted by other cities across the country. What people were seeing as ‘free money’ is now moving into the realm of policy. That is huge! State-infused dollars now support UBI in different locations across the country. That tells us that governments are looking into UBI to examine and study for possible future adoption.
Just us talking. Blacks particularly, and brown people were intentionally harmed and targeted by implementing structural policies that would keep them in poverty and prevent upward mobility in this democracy, and today’s stats along with policy-backed practices persist to effectively continue to hold these families in place. Although current policies have been changed, slightly altered, to deny discriminatory elements, generational poverty, inferior education, problematic health care and mass incarceration, these realities still provide evidence that we have not yet ‘overcome’.
As a form of reparation long talked about and argued over, UBI may be just the thing that can make headway towards equity through reconciliation, recognition and, financially speaking,minimal reparation for years of undeserved harm. It takes bravery to face our misdeeds and it takes strength of character and sincerity to make amends for them. We can’t expect that any set amount of money could undo or make up for all the harm, but doing something right is a great place to start.
It has been greed that led this country down the path of cruel inhumane treatment and disregard of people they grew comfortably justified to compromise for years. Wealth has already been created, sustained and passed down from one to another. When does it stop? Controlling most of the important industries and serving as gatekeepers to opportunity and access, if the presumed arrogance, associated with that wealth and privilege, is assured as unbreakable, WHY is no one making moves toward equity and social justice. It is the responsibility of those who continue to benefit from the injustices that are reflected in the statistically disproportionate reality.
People of color in this country, who performed all of the labor that created wealth for this country, need a break. They deserve one. They should no longer be held prisoner to puppetry of systems-policies and practices[which cultivated perspectives] that keep them on the outside. History has been shaped to fit egos, not truth. Fortunately, towards the greater good, those omitted truths are swiftly being revealed.
With opportunities to attend the ‘best’ most prestigious learning institutions, it is amazing how the most learned individuals appear to remain ignorant or dismissive of a history, supported by facts that reach truly elementary conclusions. It is hard to believe that there aren’t any who possess the moral turpitude to be agents of change. Cheaper, more economically sane is it to free the millions of families from system-involved bondage.
Bottom line folks, the wealth is too strong to disappear, unless practices and policies continue to reflect the same nasty patterns. In a litigious nation as this, even the best attorney will not successfully defend injustice-mindful injustice. Far better to act or err on the side of right than to defend that which is indefensible.
Call it charity, call it reparations, call UBI-Universal Basic Income... a necessary policy.….at least until all silence is broken and eyes are open to people other than ourselves! UBI is a fantastic place to start! America strong!