SEED Proposal First Draft copy

Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) Research Proposal
Universal Basic Income (UBI) has gained a lot of traction recently. Large-scale pilot
experiments are currently being conducted by non-profit groups in Kenya and Uganda and by
governmental offices in Finland, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Ontario, Canada. 1 These
experiments attempt to address the many gaps in literature surrounding unconditional cash
transfers. For instance, Hashofer & Shapiro (2013) address questions related to saving and
consumption patterns as well as psychological and stress outcomes in the randomized UBI
experiment in Kenya.2 They also examine differential effects across the frequency of cash
transfer and gender of cash recipient. In Finland’s experiment, only unemployed individuals are
included in the study to isolate potential work incentives of UBI compared to unemployment
insurance.3 4 Here, I propose a research project that I hope to launch in coordination with SEED
to study UBI in Stockton. Rather than focusing on the quantitative outcomes of cash transfers,
this study addresses a more fundamental question surrounding UBI: Are Americans willing to
support it?
US public opinion regarding UBI is not so well-established due the policy’s absence from
public discourse in the last several decades. Recent polling suggests Americans are more likely to
support than oppose “a proposal in which the government would provide all Americans a
regular, unconditional sum of money”.5 Still, the efficacy of polling around such a foreign policy
initiative is questionable. Perhaps a more concrete signal of support for UBI in is that the Alaskan
Permanent Fund, which pays an annual dividend to each Alaskan resident, receives strong
support among Alaskans.6
In Class War?, authors Benjamin Page and Lawrence Jacobs use extensive polling to
classify Americans as “philosophical conservatives but also pragmatic egalitarians”. 7 Put simply,
the average American is expected to both strongly value self-reliance and favor government’s
taxing and spending to ensure the universal access to public education, health care, and food.
It’s not clear how UBI fits into this complex. On one hand, a guaranteed income regardless of
work status may conflict with the notion of self-reliance. On the other hand, the government
ensuring a right to a minimum standard of living would appear to carry significant popularity.
Finally, the contemporary political landscape, namely the threat of funding cuts for key federal
social programs including Medicaid8 and the Child Health Insurance Program9, is another source
of uncertainty in support for UBI.
Research Design and Questions
SEED offers a unique, engaging platform to study public opinion surrounding UBI. As
opposed to polling around theoretical policy proposals, this study aims to establish a “focus
group” of Stockton residents including recipients and non-recipients of UBI. Relying on in-depth,
multi-stage interviews throughout SEED implementation, this study will address the following
questions. First, does UBI carry support among focus group members at the onset of the
experiment? How does an individual’s political party affiliation, work status, income level, and
usage of existing social programs affect his/her position? Second, what is the support of UBI
among recipients during experiment implementation? Has cash assistance improved individuals’
experiences and opportunities in work, education, housing, and family support? How do the
benefits of cash assistance compare to those of other social programs? Third, does support for
UBI change following experiment implementation among recipients and non-recipients? Here,
this study will use SEED as an interface for recipients and non-recipients who participate in this
study. After learning about the experiences of Stockton residents in the experiment, what are
the sources of variance in public opinion for UBI? Is UBI a viable replacement for existing social
programs? Is such a policy without work requirements consistent with the purpose of the US
safety net and/or reinforcing the American Dream?
The city of Stockton will serve as an ideal location for this case study. First, it is politically
moderate10 and racially diverse11 relative to State-average, which will allow this study to capture
public opinion across demographics. Further, Stockton’s poverty rate is well above Stateaverage12, which lends itself to meaningful analysis of UBI as a potential anti-poverty measure.
Finally, SEED’s small pool of UBI recipients favors the in-depth, interview-based study proposed
This study’s finished product will include both a written paper and audio podcast which
analyze the progression of support for UBI among Stockton residents.
Haushofer, J., & Shapiro, J. (2013). Household Response to Income Changes: Evidence from
an Unconditional Cash Transfer Program in Kenya. Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
24(5), 1–57.
Page, B. I., & Jacobs, L. R. (2009). Class war?: what Americans really think about economic inequality.
University of Chicago Press