For decades, my mother worked multiple minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. A federal guaranteed income and expanding the child tax credit would help today’s struggling families.
For much of my life, my mom and I were inseparable. When I was 10 and my mom started working evening shifts at Subway, I went with her, sprawled across the green restaurant booths with my Mad Libs and Furby while she stood behind the counter counting change. When my mom did night shifts at the gas station, I slept on the hallway floor and waited for her to come home. When I graduated from college, I took a job in Stockton, Calif., primarily because of its proximity to my mom.
Much of this closeness was because I knew that my mom deserved better. She dreamed of getting an education, and becoming the teacher she’d always aspired to be; of being able to take a day off, instead of working seven days straight. But, she was so busy taking care of her three growing girls, that better never came around—after nearly 25 years of working multiple minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, my mom passed away unexpectedly in 2020.
As I celebrate my mom’s life today, I am struck by the fact that the biggest tragedy was never her death itself; it’s the hardship she endured while she was alive. And that those hardships were a product not of personal shortcomings, but of policy failures. Policy choices like stagnant wages and a failing social safety net forced my mom to work 15-16 hours just to keep the lights on.
A lack of policies to help mothers in general means that stories like my mom’s are tragically common. But, we can make better choices as a country—we can allow folks to live healthier, more dignified lives by providing a guaranteed income.
The biggest tragedy was never her death itself; it’s the hardship she endured while she was alive. And that those hardships were a product not of personal shortcomings, but of policy failures.
Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, the organization I run, has more than 120 local leaders who are pushing for a guaranteed income for all who need it. All together, the coalition has launched more than 40 pilots that will provide $215 million in direct relief to everyday Americans.
Early data from across more than 20 of our pilots shows that most guaranteed income recipients are women, who are spending the funds on basic necessities such as household goods, food and utilities. Many also report being able to better care for their kids, like single mom Halimah in Atlanta who used her funds to put her two kids in sports programs and buy them uniforms. $500, the monthly amount of most of our pilots, isn’t a silver bullet, but it provides palpable relief.
“I have worked since I was 17 and now I am 40 years old still working hard,” said Halimah. “This past year I didn’t have to feel like I was just scraping by. I could actually breathe.”
We saw similar positive results from 2021’s expanded child tax credit (CTC), which essentially provided a guaranteed income of up to $300 per child to nearly every parent in the U.S. It was astonishingly effective, slashing child poverty by nearly half. The month it expired, rates spiked more than 40 percent.
Another extremely important yet lesser-explored angle of unrestricted cash is the agency it would give survivors of domestic violence, who are predominantly women, to break free from their abusers. The organization FreeFrom, which focuses on the intersection of domestic violence and financial insecurity, found that the average amount women say they need to escape an abusive situation is just $730. Yet as anyone who’s been poor knows—when you’re broke, a hundred dollars may as well be a billion: just another amount you don’t have.
I’m heartened that leaders like Cambridge’s Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui are standing in the gap between lacking federal policies and acutely struggling families: Last week, the city became the first to announce details of its guaranteed income program’s expansion to every household with a child living in poverty. Ultimately though, the need extends to the entire country, and the best Mother’s Day gift moms could receive is Congress restoring the expanded CTC.
A guaranteed income came too late for my mother, but I know there’s no better way to honor her legacy than by helping to build a world in which she could have had the opportunity to thrive rather than just survive. I hope you’ll join me.
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