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Economy

2021 Will Be the Year of Guaranteed Income Experiments

At least 11 U.S. cities are piloting UBI programs to give some of their residents direct cash payments, no strings attached. 

City programs to provide unconditional cash payments to residents are growing in popularity.

City programs to provide unconditional cash payments to residents are growing in popularity.

Photographer: Thanit Weerawan/Moment RF
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Giving people direct, recurring cash payments, no questions asked, is a simple idea — and an old one. Different formulations of a guaranteed income have been promoted by civil rights leaders, conservative thinkers, labor experts, Silicon Valley types, U.S. presidential candidates and even the Pope. Now, it’s U.S. cities that are putting the concept in action.

Fueled by a growing group of city leaders, philanthropists and nonprofit organizations, 2021 will see an explosion of guaranteed income pilot programs in U.S. cities. At least 11 direct-cash experiments will be in effect this year, from Pittsburgh to Compton. Another 20 mayors have said they may launch such pilots in the future, with several cities taking initial legislative steps to implement them.