WASHINGTON, D.C. — Across the country, multiple programs that provide a basic monthly income to those in need are getting a test run.
“The average American cares that people participate in the economy and does better,” said Mary Bogle, a principal research associate with the Urban Institute.
They recently studied a basic income program in the nation’s capital called THRIVE East of the River, involving nearly 600 low-income families and individuals during the pandemic.
So, what happens when a program like that ends?
“A lot of these folks go back to the regular American safety net, which is frankly not very effective in helping them get to jobs,” Bogle said.
For those who found jobs, the researchers saw that the basic income appeared to provide them with a stepping-stone out of deep poverty.
“You could use a guaranteed income to modernize the safety net,” Bogel said, “And, really, instead of it being sort of a net that people get trapped in, you can turn it into a trampoline.”
To see how that trampoline worked, we met up with one of the basic income recipients: 67-year-old Robert Lassiter.
He works two part-time jobs, as a janitor at a school and a house cleaner. At one point, he lived in an abandoned home.
“When I went and looked at my bank account, these tears that you see here are small,” Lassiter said. “The other ones were bigger because it was joy. It was for me to say, ‘OK, I can take this money and do whatever I want with it.’”
The basic income gave him the financial boost he needed to be able to move into his own apartment.
“And then, I could go to the store and I could buy me a bedroom set? My own bedroom set that I could sleep and buy the sheets to put on that bed that I can sleep in?” he said, as he recalled being in awe. “It's a feeling that’s indescribable.”
Housing costs made up the main use of the basic income for the program’s participants.
“The majority of folks use their cash on housing,” Bogle said.
However, researchers found the money helped in another important way: their mental health.
“It took stress off of me,” Lassiter said. “I’m not stressed out no more – at all.”
The next step, say researchers, will be figuring out the right length of time that a basic income program should last.
“When I look at the data, I would say that if you could sustain guaranteed income for at least three to five years, you'd see very large economic mobility gains,” Bogle said.
In Robert Lassiter’s case, the basic income he got came right on time.
“Somebody believed me and gave me an opportunity to sit here and tell you how independent I am today, and I am very independent today,” he said. “My future is peaceful.”