Oakland, CA

Oakland California’s progressive mayor launches $500 guaranteed basic income to selected low-income families of colour

Karen Madej


By Daniel Arauz - 2013/05/01 May Day in Oakland, California, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Imagine what a no strings attached $500 could do for low-income individuals, families, and vulnerable people worldwide today. Most likely the selected parties would still need to work, but they won’t worry so much about losing their home.

If the government and the corporations want healthy and compliant workers in the future, they’re going to have to give low-income men, women and children, and other vulnerable people living in poverty, a fighting chance of being useful members of the working majority.

A balanced upbringing, with food in their bellies, warmth, and a roof over their heads means fewer mental-health issues for mothers and their offspring. A low-income family with the possibility of dragging themselves out of poverty to become productive members of the workforce is far more powerful a choice for governments these days, isn’t it?


Governments that believe giving the poor and vulnerable as little as possible is the right way to get uneducated, low-income people into work, should reconsider this approach. Forcing people to use food banks is a further indignity. Over two-thirds of the US do not have the luxury of degree level education.

Today, for an educated woman, it is mostly as simple as getting a job and supporting herself. It would have to be a good job, though. One that paid enough for a single mother to pay for child care.

However, when a person of colour, a single mother or a vulnerable person has little to no support from family, friends or the government, the sacrifices made kill off any chances of rising above the poverty line. Where various governments think low-income workers should be.

Guaranteed Basic Income

Libby Schaaf, Oakland’s mayor, announced a privately funded $6.75m program. The latest in California as of March 2021. The mayor believes this unconditional payment of $500 will bring about the most promising means of change for systems, racial equality, and economic mobility.

“I’m proud to work with such committed local partners to build a new system that can help undo centuries of economic and racial injustice, and point us all toward a more just society.” Libby Schaaf

Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a program that helps 42 other cities’ mayors follow Stockton’s lead and run their own pilots, ensures interest and a greater likelihood of schemes being piloted across all parts of the United States.


Paved the way with their human approach to debt free payments. Former mayor Tubbs made certain that everybody knew the payments were not handouts. When included in the conversation about their universal basic income at the start, citizens of Stockton considered themselves undeserving. 

Stockton’s UBI administrators and the mayor humanized the pilot by engaging participants deeply and stimulating them with discussion.

Oakland and the Black Panther Party

Honoring the Black Panther Party of the 1960s, Oakland offers their pilot guaranteed basic income specifically to Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.

“We have designed this demonstration project to add the body of evidence, and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Schaaf said.

White families have no need of the scheme because they, on average, earn three times more per annum than Black families, according to the Oakland Equity Index.

There will be 600 participants in the Oakland pilot. Qualifying for the scheme involves having at least one child under 18. The median income in Oakland is about $59,000, eligible families will have an income below 50% of the median for a family of three. 

Not everybody who qualifies will receive the payment. Eligible participants will await their fate via a random selection process.

Then and now

As far back as Nixon’s presidency, Republicans Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld managed four programs across America. Despite the conclusions showing that free money didn’t stop people from working and Nixon’s request to expand the experiment, Congress refused to pass it.

Recently, a proposal to increase tax by 1% on incomes greater than $2m from assemblyman Evan Low to give $1,000 a month to adults with certain incomes in California, could cover the cost up to $129bn annually.

To answer my own question, yes, it is worth giving a low-income family the possibility of dragging themselves out of poverty. A guaranteed monthly income of $500 to help people become productive members of the workforce is a far more powerful choice for cities and governments these days.

What would be even better? $1000 per month.

“In a world of true abundance you shouldn't have to work to justify your life.”
Sam Harris

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.


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