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Guaranteed income has shown ‘accelerated self-sufficiency’: Oakland, CA Mayor

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Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, CA, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers and Alexis Christoforous to discuss efforts in Oakland, CA to close the racial wealth gap and outlook on Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, the city of Oakland is following in the footsteps of cities like Stockton, Richmond, Mount Vernon in piloting guaranteed income programs. But unlike some other UBI programs, Oakland is doing it a little bit differently. To qualify in the city, families must identify as people of color. We have Oakland, California mayor Libby Schaaf here with us now. So Mayor, why was it so important to really tie race into the qualification for this program, especially as so many cities that have been piloting UBI have really just been focusing more on low-income households more so than low income and race?

LIBBY SCHAAF: Well, we are hoping that demonstrations like Oakland are going to lead to a federal policy. And so we want to learn things so that we can develop the best policy, the most effective way of letting families live in dignity and get to self-sufficiency. And 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. And so as a demonstration, 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. That is an equity approach, and that's what Oakland stands for.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Mayor, I know you're-- I'm sure you're very familiar with the critics of universal basic income who say it disincentivizes people to go out and work, it doesn't help make them financially independent. What have you found in your own analysis, when you saw what other cities were doing when it came to UBI?

LIBBY SCHAAF: That's why these demonstration projects are so important not just for policy change, but for narrative change. 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. 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, and that is something that everyone should be in favor of.

KRISTIN MYERS: Mayor, is Oakland considering expanding this program to white households, perhaps, that are lower income in the future?

LIBBY SCHAAF: We are intentional about who this program is for, who we are targeting as we do our outreach. Of course, anyone can submit an application. We will randomly select the families that get the $500 per month, no strings attached for at least 18 months.

This is something that cities across the country are really excited about. 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. Everyone should be in favor of that.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Mayor, can you share with us a little more about how you're funding this initial pilot program? And I the intention is not to make it permanent. So what would you be looking for from the federal government, if you were to do this on a longer-term basis?

LIBBY SCHAAF: We are very lucky to receive 100% philanthropic funding for this demonstration. No taxpayer dollars are going into this experiment, which will be rigorously studied. And it is that evaluation, 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. 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.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Mayor, you know, considering that you are looking to reduce that racial wealth gap, you know, we've been talking a lot about Evanston, Illinois recently because of the reparations that they've decided to enact there. I'm curious to know if a city like Oakland would consider doing something similar.

LIBBY SCHAAF: You know, the truth and reconciliation process is one that I think every community should go through. And when we think of reparative policies-- and in fact, even Biden's infrastructure bill that he's announcing later today makes reference to systemic inequities that have been baked in through policies. And in the infrastructure plan, he references exclusionary zoning policies. We have to recognize that poverty is not a personal failure. 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.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And Mayor, you brought up infrastructure. We're all waiting with bated breath to hear from the president around 4:00 PM Eastern when he gives the details of that $2 trillion infrastructure plan. What are you hoping for, in particular for your city, and what would you plan to do with some of the money allocated to you, if you can?

LIBBY SCHAAF: Oh, we are very excited about this announcement-- again, something that I think is different from what we've seen from past administrations. One, a recognition that affordable housing is infrastructure. In California, we are in desperate need, as we grapple with a homelessness epidemic. I'm also excited about his commitment for climate change work and to really take seriously our commitment to the Paris Climate Accords and our collective need to stop global warming.

And then, of course, very proud to recognize that some of the jobs investments also would invest in evidence-based violence reduction initiatives, like Ceasefire, which Oakland has had tremendous success with in reducing gun violence in our city. These are just a few of the innovations that I'm seen in this infrastructure proposal, what we've seen of it so far. And then, of course, the Bay Area needs transportation investment. Oakland is home to one of the busiest ports in the world. Getting our goods moving and stopping the congestion and pollution is something that we all will look forward to.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Oakland, California mayor Libby Schaaf, thank you so much for joining us today.