Guaranteed Basic Income Programs Seem To Benefit Those With Concrete Goals

Long time readers know I tend to pay attention to news about guaranteed basic income programs, particularly those that have artists as a target group. Thanks to a CityLab link to a story on Los Angeles’ recent foray into providing guaranteed basic income, there is more data about what approaches are most effective. This program didn’t target artists as a group, but it has some good insights.

Like most stories on the subject, there were many heartening stories about the successes people had and continued to experience after the program ended. However, this article also mentioned those who were doing well while they were receiving the $1,000 month funds, but once the program ended found themselves faced with living in their cars. Anecdotally, at least those who had problems after the funding ended weren’t spending that much differently than those who continued to thrive. (i.e. the biggest spurge spending was on rather modest once a week meals)

What seems to be the differentiating factor is whether people had concrete goals they wanted to achieve prior to receiving the monthly payment:

Participants that do achieve a measure of economic mobility, she said, are those who already had concrete goals or plans.

“What happens with guaranteed income is that it smooths that income volatility … and it creates predictability,” Castro said. “When you have that floor, that scarcity starts to go away. And we know that it calms the mind, it calms the spirit, and it creates space for people to re-imagine an alternative future, or to maybe take steps toward a goal that they’ve always had but have not been able to actualize.”

Abigail Marquez, general manager of L.A.’s Community Investment for Families Department, which ran BIG:LEAP, called guaranteed income “one effective strategy” for ending generational poverty in L.A. Such programs must be paired with workforce development, economic development and housing strategies, she said.

Knowing this, one concern I would have is that guaranteed basic income programs not gradually evolve guidelines similar to foundation grant programs where candidates for receiving the money have to provide evidence of having goals they are pursuing and just need a little bit of help gaining stability. Unfortunately, it is easy to imagine this happening because the folks putting up the money want to hear success stories and know their funds are being used effectively. Little by little, the unrestricted use nature of guaranteed basic income can become a little more restricted.

On the other hand, I feel like guaranteed basic income for artists becomes an even better idea since artists generally always have projects in mind they want to pursue. Though I am sure there are some who would say some of those projects aren’t as practical as the goals people in the L.A. Times story were working on.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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