The Ms. Q&A: The Feminist Case for Guaranteed Income

Lorrine Paradela is one of the recipients of Stockton’s UBI program, giving 125 randomly selected Stocktonians $500 per month for 18 months. . (Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle)

Guaranteed income has recently gained traction as one way to help Americans weather the economic ramifications of COVID-19. With unemployment skyrocketing and a recession nearly inevitable, direct, recurring payments ensure that folks are able to cover their basic expenses and stay afloat.

There’s a feminist case to be made for guaranteed income, too. Women, particularly women of color, are more likely to live below the poverty line. Despite entering the workforce in higher numbers, women still perform the majority of unpaid care work—child care, elder care and household chores—that keep our formal economy running.

This is especially true for single mothers, who not only bear the responsibilities of parenting alone, but are more likely to earn low wages. Roughly half of all single mothers make less than $30,000 per year, and nearly 30 percent of households led by single mothers live in poverty. A guaranteed income recognizes caregiving as work and gives the most marginalized women a stable foundation to stand and build upon. 

For these reasons, Stockton, California, has been piloting a UBI since February 2019, with the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), giving 125 randomly selected Stocktonians $500 per month for 18 months. For these reasons, Stockton, California, has been piloting a UBI since February 2019, with the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), giving 125 randomly selected Stocktonians $500 per month for 18 months. On May 28, Mayor Michael Tubbs announced the extension of Stockton’s Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) to 24 months, with the final disbursement scheduled for January 2021.

Amongst SEED’s recipients—nearly 70 percent of whom are women—are Lorrine Paradela and Sheila Stall. Lorrine works as a behavioral therapist for autistic children and Sheila as a full-time foster mom. Both are formidable and resourceful single mothers who have spent their $500 to buy their kids “not just what they need, but also what they want.”

Below is my conversation with these mothers, talking about the ways in which guaranteed income heightens the joys and soothes the challenges of single motherhood; about how just a small infusion of unconditional cash dignifies the work that all mothers do; and about how many individuals are positively impacted along the way.

Editor’s note: The conversations have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Sukhi Samra: Tell me a little bit about your family.

Lorrine Paradela: I have two kids at home—my son is 16, and my daughter is 10. Before COVID-19, I was working [evenings]. I’d get up, have the kids eat something, and take them to school. Then I’d go back home, clean up, cook dinner for the kids and go to work. I’d be gone by the time the kids came back from school, so they’d do their homework and chores and then play their video games and be on their tablets. By the time I got home, it’d be 11:00 p.m. My daughter was supposed to be asleep, but she’d get up, greet me, and give me a hug and a kiss. Same routine every day. 

When the coronavirus hit, I started working mornings. I wake up at 5:30am, check on the kids. While I’m at work, I call the kids and make sure that they’re up. I always get—my son always says, “What do you want?” I make sure they get up for their online school, and tell them to eat something. At my job—I now double as a teacher, I home-school the kids. We’re teachers too now.  

After that, sometimes I go straight home, or I go to the store. I get home, I strip off all my clothes, and jump into the shower.  I am so careful about not wanting to bring anything from home to work, or from work to home. It takes a whole different level of attention. 

Then I cook dinner, help the kids with their homework. I don’t take my kids anywhere—maybe on a Friday, I’ll take them to go get a milkshake in the car. Or we’ll go to my sister’s house, who lives down the street. My son interacts with his friends over video games. We’re scared to go for walks, because COVID-19 could stay in the air. 

We’re a close unit—even before COVID-19. My kids are teenagers, so they like to split. When I’m home, they’ll go to their rooms. 

Sheila Stall: I have my daughter, who’s 21 and she still lives at home. Then I have the foster daughters—one is 15, and one is 13. It’ll be 4 years in August. I started fostering in 2012. I had a friend that lost custody of her daughter. She was going to go into the system, so I took her in. When she turned 17, she left and went with her mom.

And it just continued on through there—I just felt compelled to help young girls who were taken out of their homes. I always expected these girls to just be short-term, but this has turned permanent. 

SS: What’s the most rewarding about raising your kids alone?

LP: The most rewarding part is that I don’t have to share them. They’re with me 24/7. I have them all to myself—just seeing them everyday, waking up with them everyday. Watching my son grow into a young man—he’s very thoughtful, very kind. My little one—she’s spitfire. 

SS: When you see them doing well, and using the life skills that you’ve taught them. Like cooking—my girls know how to cook. When they first came, my 13-year-old didn’t even know how to sweep the floor. Now she’s an honor roll student, even with the pandemic.

My 15-year-old is talented—she’s learning how to braid hair to make some cash on the side. She’s learning that life skills can also be profitable. 

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SS: And what’s the most challenging part of being a single parent? 

LP: The hardest part is raising them on my own. Raising kids is supposed to be a village—two parents. But I think I’m doing a good job by myself.

Also, income—worrying about am I going to have enough money to take good care? A lot of stuff comes up, like friends’ birthday parties. Am I going to have enough money for them to buy presents? Because I don’t like my kids going to birthday parties without presents. I make sure I have money for the kids to go to birthday parties. I worry about their clothes, stuff for them to live. Stuff that they want because I don’t want them to without. If they want something, I want them to be able to buy it. Food. Bills.

And child support is like Russian Roulette—sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. 

SS: The most challenging part is that you just don’t have any help. The foster care system gives these kids so much life, but you have to raise these kids to be functioning kids. I still need to teach them that the decisions you make, good or bad, have consequences, and that you want to make more good choices than bad choices.

And raising four girls is just so expensive—everyone has their own hygiene needs. 

SS: You’ve mentioned this before—about your son and daughter’s relationship. Can you explain more the dynamic in your family?

LP: I want my son to be a kid—play football, do activities, and hang out with his friends. [Before] the coronavirus, my daughter would stay after school and didn’t get out until 6:00 p.m. My son could do football, or other activities, and then he’d go pick her up for me. Sometimes I’d have dinner made, sometimes he’d make dinner.  He doesn’t complain; he helps me out a lot. She takes care of herself.

The kids help me out, I talk to them over and over about helping mom out because I go to work and make sure bills are paid off. We’re a family unit—we take care of each other. 

SS: How has the SEED money impacted your life? 

LP: There’s events that happen in your life that you don’t think are going to happen—like my car wasn’t working so great; I got in a car accident. I used the SEED money to pay for a new car, and insurance. It means I can get to work. Before that, I used it for bills, a car battery. I’ve been able to reward my kids, like a video game.

We can use that money for anything, but I haven’t bought myself anything—just my kids. It’s helped out a lot—it’s some income; it counts. 

SS: Before SEED, life was so difficult. People think foster parents get paid a whole bunch of money—but you don’t, and it’s money for the kids. Before the $500, it’d be like every month, towards the end of the month, I was struggling. I was just trying to make ends meet—by the 15th of the month, we were already scrambling.

Now, we don’t scramble. The money has also helped me relax a little bit more. Every month, something can go wrong. One month it was my car,  so I used the $500 for my tires, oil changes, brakes and major engine work. I was only able to get that work done because of the $500. Getting the car fixed is so important for my kids. Before COVID, I was using my car all the time—dance class, volleyball, after school programs, and stuff like that.

SS: Does the SEED money change what you’re able to purchase for your family?

LP: I’m able to take the kids to go eat more, I’ve been able to buy them things that they want – not things that they need. Before COVID, I was able to take my kids out of town. I was able to go to Santa Cruz, to go see my mom – because she’s three hours away –  and the car. 

SS: We are able to buy season passes for Six Flags and that was special because as foster kids they had never been to an amusement park ever before. And they were so grateful to go on Halloween, and to do the water slides. Before COVID, we would go and just stay all day. I was also able to buy the kids so much for Christmas – I was really able to go out of my way. My youngest daughter loves artwork, so I bought her paints and an easel. The other one – I took her to get her braids, and gave her some extra money for clothing. 

SS: How has SEED impacted your children?

LP: My son knows about the $500; he’s gotten hit up by a couple of his friends. He’s proud of what I’ve achieved—still working and supporting them. They’re also a lot happier because when he needs money to go do something and I’ll put it in his account. I’ll put like $20 here, $40 there in his account for him. 

SS: It’s helped my relationship with my kids—before, if bills were too high, I’d yell.

Now we have what I call “table-talks.” Like for instance you’re burning too much electricity, I can show them the bill and say this is how high it is because someone’s been sleeping with the lights on at night. Or, the water bill is also expensive because you guys are taking 45-minute showers.

Before, I would be livid; now, I’m calm in my communication. 

SS: What has the SEED money done for your mental well-being?

LP: When I first got the money, like I said, events happen. Before I got SEED, I would stress. When you’re a single parent, your mind races all the time. Even though you’ve paid the bills, you still stress about the bills, for next month. With this money helping out a little bit, I had less stress because this money would help pay for things. I was able to breathe a little better, and actually sleep. 

SS: Because of SEED, I can relax. I’m not worrying about how I’m going to make it from one month to the next. If something does break down, I don’t panic the same. 

SS: Anything else?

LP: Not really, just that—I’m not the only single parent receiving the money. It’s a good cause to help us out; it takes a lot off of our plate. I know it’s not forever—makes us want to achieve more. I want to go back to school for this job, but I got injured a couple of times. I might have to have surgery in my left hand, so I might have to change my job choice. I have an AA, I want to get a BA so I can make more and support my family. 

SS: Just that I really want my kids to grow up and be successful. I always tell them you need to get your education, go to school, go to college and just do better than I do. You want to be successful in life because money is a necessary thing in this life. If you are successful and have a lot of money, you’ll be able to do a lot more things and you can help someone else too. 


Sukhi Samra is the executive director of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.