The first results from a groundbreaking universal basic income experiment in Stockton, California are in. After just one year of receiving a guaranteed income of $500 a month, no strings attached, the 125 recipients in the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration were, to put it simply, living better lives, and in ways that some people might not have expected.
Recipients were reportedly less anxious and depressed compared to the control group, and both symptoms decreased over the course of the year. There were also statistically significant improvements in fatigue levels, emotional health, and overall well-being.
All of this makes sense. The conservative argument against a guaranteed income (and the social safety net in general) isn’t that giving people money won’t make them happier; it’s that giving them money prevents them from gaining the satisfaction of working hard and contributing to the economy.
On both counts, however, the early results of this study suggest that conservatives are incorrect. Recipients obtained full-time employment at more than twice the rate of non-recipients in the first year of the study. They were able to work fewer part-time shifts and take on fewer gigs, allowing time to apply for higher-paying positions. Recipients also took on internships, training, and coursework that led to better job prospects.
“[F]inancial scarcity generates time scarcity,” the report reads. “Simply put, when every dollar of wage work is allocated for bills before it is earned, most cannot afford to skip work or take necessary steps toward better employment structurally trapping them regardless of individual effort.”
Another potential objection to the UBI is that people will spend the money frivolously or self-destructively. That also didn’t pan out in the first year of the study. Participants mostly spent the money on basic needs: 37 percent on food; 22 percent on home goods, clothes and shoes, and discount stores; 11 percent on utilities; and 10 percent on auto costs. Less than one percent of the money disbursed went to alcohol and tobacco.
The results are encouraging, but more research is certainly needed. Luckily, the second year of SEED data will be out next year. And the mayor of Stockton who championed the program also founded Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a network of 34 mayors across the country who want to pilot UBI in their own cities.