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Universal Basic Income in Oakland is the first program to prioritize people of color

·4 min read

Like many other cities around the country, Oakland, Calif., has launched a pilot guaranteed income program geared towards helping the city’s lowest income residents. But unlike other pilot programs, Oakland’s pilot is also attempting to reduce the racial wealth gap, and will be the first to make race a qualification of the program. 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told Yahoo Finance that Oakland’s approach is one of “equity." 

"We have a well-documented racial wealth gap in this country, 10 times asset poverty. We have, in Oakland, documented three times a difference in median incomes between our white families and our Black families,” Schaaf said. “As a piece of this policy development, we believe that we can contribute to the question of how to close the racial wealth gap, as well as designing a program that's going to work for the families that are facing the most barriers.” 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oakland is a majority-minority city, where only roughly 36% identify as white.

But racial gaps are widening in the city thanks to sky-high housing prices and a tech boom in neighboring San Francisco that have intensified the gentrification process. Studies from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) found that Oakland has had the “greatest intensity of gentrification” in the U.S. since 2013.

“We believe this is one of the fastest and most transformative ways to close the racial wealth gap but more importantly, to help families raise children that are going to have upward mobility, economically, and let every family thrive,” Schaaf explained. “Everyone should be in favor of that.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gestures while speaking at a media conference on Friday, April 10, 2020, in Oakland, Calif. Schaaf announced an initiative designed to make it safer to exercise and move about in Oakland by designating 74 miles of neighborhood streets for through traffic by bikes, pedestrians, wheelchair users, and local vehicles only, starting Saturday, April 11. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gestures while speaking at a media conference on Friday, April 10, 2020, in Oakland, Calif. Schaaf announced an initiative designed to make it safer to exercise and move about in Oakland by designating 74 miles of neighborhood streets for through traffic by bikes, pedestrians, wheelchair users, and local vehicles only, starting Saturday, April 11. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Guaranteed income is often used interchangeably with Universal Basic Income (UBI) — the difference between the two is that guaranteed income has qualifications or requirements to participate.

Though UBI remains a controversial policy, results from Stockton’s guaranteed income pilot program proved it is successful in helping low-income residents.

Analysis of the program saw full-time employment jump from 28% to 40% for participants, more than double the rate of those who didn’t receive a guaranteed income.

Financial stability also improved; before the pilot, only a quarter of those studied could afford to pay for emergency expenses — that number increased to half by the end of the study.

Schaaf told Yahoo Finance that the results of Stockton’s program proved detractors — many said that programs like UBI “disincentivize” work — wrong.

“We were so impressed when Stockton's demonstration showed that people receiving a guaranteed income got full employment at twice the rate as those who did not,” she said. “And it vastly improved their mental health, their capacity to care for their children and actually go out and get that certification to get a higher-paying job.”

“It actually accelerated self-sufficiency,” she added.

Taxpayer dollars were not used to fund Oakland’s UBI program, according to Schaaf. Instead it was funded “100%” by “philanthropic” funds. She said their program, much like Stockton’s, will be “rigorously studied.”

She hopes that data from her city will provide a blueprint for guaranteed income on a national level.

“It is the findings from demonstrations like Oakland's, like Stockton's, and like cities across the country that we hope will inform federal policy,” she explained.

“Of course, we have things that are very similar. The child tax credit, the earned-income tax credit — these are all ways to try and help even that playing field and recognize that even our hardest-working families are not meeting their basic needs.”

“We have to recognize that poverty is not a personal failure,” she said. “It's been a failure of our policies and our systems and that repairing those systems is an important part of our journey to justice for all Americans.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter and anchor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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