Basic Income Programs Saw Rapid Growth in 2021

At least 20 guaranteed income pilots have launched in cities and counties across the U.S. since 2018, and more than 5,400 families and individuals have started receiving between $300 and $1,000 a month, according to a Bloomberg CityLab analysis. If all these programs complete their pilot periods as planned, they’ll have given out at least $35 million.

These figures mark the close of a year of rapid growth for U.S. programs that give some residents direct cash payments, with a half-dozen other pilots promised to launch in cities next year. For many advocates, the concept of “basic income” has evolved from the more expansive UBI — a universal basic income to all residents — to more targeted guaranteed income programs that have the goal of narrowing inequality and dismantling poverty.

As local programs sprouted up in cities across the U.S. in 2021, more than 60 mayors joined a coalition to advocate for the policy in their cities and nationally. Among Democrats, at least, it is no longer considered radical to propose giving low-income residents money with none of the traditional strings of welfare attached. And at the national level, Congress engaged in its own temporary mass cash distribution program, in the form of stimulus checks to the vast majority of Americans.

Still, the local programs are small in scale and duration, and the nationwide push to expand them comes as the quest for a federal guaranteed income policy has not yet succeeded. The fate of the closest thing to it — the child tax credit — hangs in the balance. Since July, the U.S. government has sent eligible parents between $250 and $300 a month for each child they have. With Congress in a stalemate on the federal spending bill, the chance of extending the benefit, which is set to expire at the end of December, looks unlikely. And there is still significant debate among those on the left over whether the massive government investment it would require to take basic income national should be a higher priority than other social programs like universal health care or affordable housing.

So if 2021 was the year of guaranteed income experiments launching and capturing the national imagination, 2022 will be the year we’ll see if these local, targeted experiments can translate into long-term shifts.

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SOURCE: Bloomberg, Sarah Holder

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