CA city to test universal basic income…with $500 a month?

Stockton, California is about to embark on a social experiment providing a universal basic income:

Stockton is one of many Bay Area cities on the fringe of the wealth accumulating in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. The Central Valley city went bankrupt in 2012, and for decades it has been trying to diversify its agriculture-based economy…

Tubbs is coordinating an effort to test a new way to sustain residents: universal basic income, or UBI. For one year, several dozen Stockton families will get $500 a month, no strings attached.

Dorian Warren co-chairs the Economic Security Project, which is contributing $1 million to the initiative. He said the goal is to gather data on the economic and social impacts of giving people a basic income.

In addition to tracking what residents do with the money, Warren said they will be monitoring how a basic income affects things like self-esteem and identity.

While the commentary I’ve seen so far on this story focuses on the long-term viability of universal basic income, I would raise another issue: how much of a test can $500 a month provide? That is not a big sum at all. Stockton is a relatively average place to live regarding costs and quality of life – see here and here. How far can $500 stretch, particularly for those that have a family and/or do not have a decent full-time job? That amount would not pay for an average rent or it could take some work to get food and essentials for a family for a month.

One of the larger questions that will need to be answered about universal basic income involves the amount of money provided. At least in the experiments I have seen thus far, the money is not necessarily meant to be the primary source of income. Yet, isn’t this supposed to provide a floor of income so that everyone can survive? If it is a smaller amount like $500 a month, it is one income source among several that an individual or family would need to put together. I would guess that many would say an extra $500 a month would be helpful but would it make enough of a meaningful difference for the people who need it most?

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