The concept of monthly government payments to reduce poverty and increase economic security among the poor and middle class existed long before Andrew Yang threw his hat in the ring for president.
Results of the New York City mayoral primary race are rolling in. Though it is not yet clear who the winner is, it is clear who the contenders are.
Andrew Yang, ever the pragmatist, conceded on Wednesday.
While it may be the end of Yang’s political aspirations for now, it is critical to recognize that his signature issue of basic income is here to stay—with a movement and footprint bigger than any one election or politician.
Yang deserves tremendous credit for bringing the idea of basic income to the masses. It is also important to understand that the concept has been around for centuries, and tested here in America for decades. Supporters have embraced the concept of monthly government payments to reduce poverty and increase economic security among the poor and middle class long before Yang threw his hat in the ring for president.
Basic income has deep roots in racial justice movements—counting the National Welfare Rights Organization, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panthers among its historic proponents. There have also been guaranteed basic income pilots in the U.S. that predate Yang’s rise, led by Black politicians and advocates, from Michael Tubbs’s Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration to Aisha Nyandoro’s Magnolia Mother’s Trust. (Editor’s note: Ms.’s Front and Center series offers first-person accounts of the Black women enrolled in this program.)
One could assume that basic income is now a commonly-understood concept because Yang got further politically than any pundit thought he would during the 2020 presidential race. However, evidence supports an alternative: The idea did not do well because a messenger was given an extended platform, but rather the messenger did well because of the strength of the idea. We saw this play out when the DNC winnowed the field of candidates by implementing a grassroots component to debate qualifications for the 2020 presidential primary race—the reason Yang continued to appear at debates was because of the recognition by everyday Americans that the economy simply does not work for most people.
Drawn to the efficacy and impact of a policy designed to share prosperity and provide opportunity to all, they made the small-dollar donations that drove Yang’s continued presence on the debate stage. Yang’s success was due to grassroots support. And that grassroots support for basic income has continued well beyond his campaigns.
During his presidential race, Yang often said that he would consider his campaign a success if other politicians embraced the idea of basic income and worked toward direct cash policies. Over the past 18 months, more than 50 mayors have joined Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, with dozens testing the impact of direct cash programs via pilots. Boards of Supervisors in Los Angeles and Santa Clara have joined this common cause. Los Angeles is launching the largest pilot in the country that’s also to be fully-funded by public dollars and California Governor Gavin Newsom included $35M for pilot funding in his budget, marking the first time a state has committed funds toward guaranteed income disbursements.
At the federal level, President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan is one of the largest expansions of cash policies in our nation’s history between additional stimulus checks and a one-year expansion of the child tax credit (CTC). The CTC will essentially provide a guaranteed income to nearly every parent in America, with payments of up to $300 per child monthly starting next month. Congressional candidates like Cori Bush and Charles Booker had significant success in their races while connecting racial and gender justice with economic justice and endorsing a guaranteed basic income as part of the solution. Rep. Ilhan Omar recently tweeted she will be presenting basic income pilot legislation in the House—an idea she calls “long overdue”.
Supporting all of this political growth is a thriving, energetic grassroots community who rolls up their sleeves everyday to organize events, have conversations with their neighbors and write letters to their members of Congress. As the founder of an organization harnessing the power of these activists to create a national basic income, I hear daily why people across the country support this idea—and all the reasons transcend any one person or political race.
Some have been struggling for years and see basic income as a way to equalize an economy that has been engineered to work for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Others worry about automation and job loss. Many are driven by the racial and gender justice implications targeted cash programs would have on closing the income gaps between Black and white Americans and women and men. All share the fundamental belief that in the richest country in the world, we can and should ensure that no one falls through the cracks by providing everyone a modicum of financial security.
Basic income is an idea with staying power that has a wide range of champions and supporters. All great movements must grow beyond a single messenger to truly achieve the meaningful change they aspire to, and basic income has done just that.