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The Forgotten History Of A Canadian Town’s Experiment With Guaranteed Income:
A town in Canada tried the simplest method to end the ills associated with poverty: give everyone a minimum sum of money. Via the Dominion:
Try to imagine a town where the government paid each of the residents a living income, regardless of who they were and what they did. For a four-year period in the ’70s, the poorest families in Dauphin, Manitoba, were granted a guaranteed minimum income by the federal and provincial governments.
Until now little has been known about what unfolded over those years in the small rural town, since the government locked away the data that had been collected and prevented it from being analyzed.
But after a five year struggle, Evelyn Forget, a professor of health sciences at the University of Manitoba, secured access to those boxes in 2009. Forget has begun to piece together the story by using the census, health records, and the testimony of the program’s participants. What is now emerging reveals that the program could have counted many successes.
Unlike welfare, which only certain individuals qualified for, the guaranteed minimum income project—called “Mincome”—was open to everyone. It was the first—and to this day, only—time that Canada has ever experimented with such an open-door social assistance program. The program came to a quick halt in 1978 when an economic recession hit Canada.
Initially, the Mincome program was conceived as a labor market experiment. The government wanted to know what would happen if everybody in town received a guaranteed income, and specifically, they wanted to know whether people would still work. It turns out they did.
Only two segments of Dauphin’s labor force worked less as a result of Mincome—new mothers and teenagers. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies. And teenagers worked less because they weren’t under as much pressure to support their families.
In the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent. Fewer people went to the hospital with work-related injuries and there were fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. There were also far fewer mental health visits. In today’s terms, an 8.5 per cent decrease in hospital visits across Canada would save the government $4 billion annually.
If a guaranteed income program can target more people and is more efficient than other social assistance programs, then why doesn’t Canada have such a program in place already? Perhaps the biggest barrier is the prevalence of negative stereotypes about poor people. “There’s very strong feelings out there that we shouldn’t give people money for nothing.”
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