Guaranteed income

Program basics

  • Guaranteed income programs provide unconditional cash transfers to residents at regular intervals.
  • Residents are generally provided with the same amount of money at each interval, and there are no restrictions on how the funds can be spent.
  • Cash is often provided to residents via debit cards, which allows residents without bank accounts to benefit from programs.

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Promising (Third-highest tier)

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Promising (Third-highest tier)

Guaranteed income programs are not yet in any of the major clearinghouse, but a randomized control trial conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Tennessee demonstrated positive results


Target population

Low- and moderate-income adults and families

Program cost

$500 per participant per month (Stockton, CA)

Implementation locations

Dates active

N/A

Outcomes and impact

  • In Stockton, CA's guaranteed income pilot, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), residents receiving a guaranteed income experienced significantly less income volatility than those in a control group. Recipients' monthly incomes fluctuated by 46.4%, compared to 67.5% for members of a control group.
  • In SEED, recipients of guaranteed income increased their rate of full-time employment by 12 percentage points, with 28% of recipients being employed full-time before the pilot and 40% of recipients being employed full-time one year into the study.
  • SEED participants became significantly more prepared to pay for an unexpected event with cash, with a 27% increase in the ability to pay for an emergency expense compared to a 3% increase for members of a control group.
  • In SEED, nearly all the cash transfers were spent on basic needs and essentials, such as food (37%), clothes and home goods (22%), utilities (11%), and auto care (10%). Less than 1 percent was spent on alcohol or tobacco, according to aggregated spending data from the debit cards.

Keys to successful implementation

  • Design programs alongside residents: In Stockton, the SEED team spent nine months engaging with community members to guide the program's execution. This included frequent town halls, focus groups, and interviews with residents. This process helped increase trust and address logistical hurdles.
  • Prioritize data collection and transparency: In Stockton, SEED collected extensive data from participants via surveys and expense tracking. Alongside this tracking, the program created a resident advisory board, which served as an effective means of answering questions from the public. This helped Stockton residents feel more comfortable in participating in the demonstration project.
  • Preserve existing benefits: In SEED, close collaboration with the San Joaquin Human Services Agency ensured that guaranteed income recipients existing public benefits would not be affected by the cash transfers.
  • Devote resources to storytelling: To counteract prevailing narratives about unconditional cash transfers, SEED provided funding for a pool of 25 monthly recipients to share stories of how cash transfers had impacted their lives. This helped the program demonstrate that cash was overwhelmingly used for essential items, like food, clothing, and utilities.

Guaranteed Income - Stockton, CA

Guaranteed Income - Stockton, CA

Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration: Increasing residents’ financial stability through an unconditional, guaranteed income