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Will Giving Pittsburghers Guaranteed Income Reduce Inequality? These Researchers Think So

Jake Savitz
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto plans to launch the city's Assured Cash Experiment next year to study how $500 of extra income a month affects the lives of 200 residents.

On today's program: The principal investigators behind one of the first pilot programs for guaranteed basic income explains what they’ve learned so far, now that a similar project is coming to Pittsburgh; and a daughter reflects on how she honored her mother’s memory in lieu of a traditional Catholic mass during the pandemic.

Researchers explain what guaranteed basic income can do that other financial safety nets can’t

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Early next year,200 Pittsburgh residents will receive $500 a month for two years from the city in what Mayor Bill Peduto is calling the “Assured Cash Experiment of Pittsburgh.” Half of the money will go to households run by Black women. Peduto said this might reduce racial and gender inequities; that’s the hope. 

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey committed $15 million to fund programs in Pittsburgh and about two dozen other cities.


Dr. Amy Castro Baker, an assistant professor at the School of Social Policy and Practice with the University of Pennsylvania, says guaranteed basic income is one tool that needs to work in concert with other measures to reduce inequality.

“It’s often held up in public conversation as this one thing that will solve everything,” explains Castro Baker. “But the problem is that if I give you $500 a month, no strings attached, that money only goes so far if there are also not policies in place protecting that income.” 

She says those policies include ensuring access to banking, as well as safe and affordable housing. 

Castro Baker and Dr. Stacia West are co-directors of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research

Both are working with the non-profit group Mayors for a Guaranteed Income to study how guaranteed basic income affects people’s health and well-being in other cities, including Pittsburgh. The organization was started by Stockton, Calif. Mayor Michael Tubbs. 

West and Castro Baker are currently studying Stockton’s guaranteed basic income pilot, the first of its kind. Similar to what Pittsburgh’s program will do, Stockton gave 125 residents $200 a month for two years.

“One of the biggest takeaways that we have seen is that people make really great financial decisions for their families,” says West. She says a criticism of guaranteed income pilots is that the money distributed will be irresponsibly spent. 

“What we saw in the spending data was that people were really spending it on food,” says West. She gives an example from early in the pandemic: middle and upper class people were stocking up on food and toilet paper. West says that people with less means often go to the grocery store more often, as their paycheck allows. But, she says, those in Stockton receiving the $500 benefit could use it as a “financial vaccine” and stock up too, reducing their potential COVID-19 exposure. 

West and Castro Baker will finish analyzing the data from the Stockton pilot next year. 

Pittsburgh’s own guaranteed income experiment will begin in early 2021.

How to honor loved ones when you can’t gather in a pandemic

(13:15 - 18:01)

Funeral services provide mourners a place to express the many feelings that accompany the loss of a loved one, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed and sometimes prevented funerals altogether. 


Canonsburg resident Kathy Slencak lost her mother to cancer this summer. She tells 90.5 WESA's Kiley Koscinski that while her family hasn't been able to hold a funeral yet, she's found other ways to channel her grief.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


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