Illinois’ Cook County, which includes Chicago, has opened up applications for one of the largest guaranteed basic income pilots in the U.S. to date.
Starting this week, Cook County residents can apply to become one of 3,250 households set to receive monthly, no-strings-attached $500 payments as part of its “Guaranteed Income Pilot.” The payments will extend for two years and total $42 million. Once the payout begins, Cook County and Los Angeles County—the two largest in the U.S—will both have active programs measuring the effectiveness of basic income. The results of those pilots could play a significant role in shaping future basic income frameworks on the state and possibly even federal levels.
Cook County officials hope the pilot can improve participants’ financial and health outcomes and provide some new insights on the impacts of direct cash payments for individuals and their communities. According to the program’s website, the pilot is limited to residents above the age of 18 with a household income level that falls at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Level. That income restriction technically prevents Cook County’s program from meeting the definition of the more well-known “universal basic income,” though the general concept here is pretty similar. Notably, the program is eligible for residents regardless of their citizenship status. Researchers at the Economy Lab at the University of Chicago will analyze data collected during the pilot.
“After months of hard work, Cook County is proud to be launching the application portal for the largest publicly-funded guaranteed income pilot in American history,” Cook County Board of Commissioner President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement. “We estimate that nearly 36% of Cook County residents will be eligible to participate, and I encourage everyone who meets the requirements to apply.”
The Cook County effort comes on the heels of a successful landmark guaranteed income experiment in Stockton, California last year. That program, which kicked off in 2019, gave $500 per month to 125 residents living in neighborhoods below the city’s median household income. Crucially, those funds were given with no strings attached, so residents could spend it however they saw fit. After one full year, researchers determined recipients found full-time employment at more than twice the rate of those who did not receive the funds. The recipients also tended to improve their overall financial, physical and emotional health.
“SEED gave people the dignity to make their own choices, the ability to live up to their potential and improved economic stability going into the turmoil of the pandemic,” former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs said in a statement. Since then, counties near Los Angeles, Oakland, and Boston have all begun running their own guaranteed income trials and experiments. In the L.A. Country case, 1,000 residents are expected to receive significantly higher $1,000 monthly payments for three years.
Universal basic income isn’t a particularly new idea, but it gained renewed attention during the last presidential election cycle when Democratic dark horse candidate Andrew Yang made it the focal point of his platform. Yang failed to advance and then failed again in New York’s mayoral elections. Now, like so many 21st-century burnouts, Yang’s mostly moved on to shilling for crypto, but the interest in UBI lives on.
In 2020, a narrow majority (55%) of U.S. voters surveyed in a Hill-Harris X poll said they supported universal basic income, a figure up 12 percentage points from the previous year. That poll saw particularly high support among younger voters who identified as Democrats. Another survey conducted around the same time by Pew Research however found a slight majority (54%) of U.S. adults said they opposed basic income.