Research has shown that economic instability profoundly impacts the development of our youngest citizens and contributes to detrimental outcomes related to health, education, and emotional wellbeing – disproportionately impacting children of color and their parents. With theracial wealth divide in the United States growing for three decades between white households and households of color and one out of seven children living in poverty, the pandemic era provides opportunities to test new theories as strategies to reduce chronic issues persistent in communities of color.
While Guaranteed Income (GI) is not a new concept, it has reemerged as a popular approach to bridge racial and economic justice, particularly for families with young children who continue to live through a long history of redlining and chronic underinvestment. Since 2019, a growing number of guaranteed income programs primarily funded by private donors have spread across the county. For example, trailblazing programs likeSEED Stockton are posing revolutionary yet straightforward solutions to help populations reduce low birth weight, be kindergarten-ready, and reduce stress and anxiety by providing cash payments to serve as a built-in income floor for those without one.
And now,California has passed the US's first state-backed guaranteed income program, which will provide a lifeline to foster youth aging out of the system and pregnant people. Millions of parents will also be receiving what many consider a form of guaranteed income through thetemporary child tax credit expansion. Together, these two recent initiatives illustrate what could be a powerful gesture of support in eliminating childhood poverty in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. By directly supporting the developmental needs of children, the pioneers behind the 57 pilot programs across the country are setting the stage for the makings of a policy revolution that will continue to require the support of those committed to moving beyond the assembly of committees to approaching chronic issues with new solutions.
To discuss the lessons learned from the guaranteed income pilots the LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment and SoCal Grantmakers convened a panel of leading experts that discussed the impacts pilots are having on families with young children, and potential opportunities to launch guaranteed income efforts in LA County. Our panel included Mayor Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles), Mayor Aja Brown (City of Compton), Alex Johnson (Program Director, The California Wellness Foundation), Dr. Zea Malawa (Physician Director, Expecting Justice), and Michael Tubbs (Special Advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom on Economic Mobility and Opportunity; Founder, Mayors for a Guaranteed Income). Our panel shared key strategies that support our shared interest in seeing children thrive by:
Investing in Research and Policy Change
Early adopters of GI programs are making a significant impact in the lives of the communities they are targeting. Three years into San Francisco’sAbundant Birth project, Black and Pacific Islander pregnant people are experiencing the positive outcomes of healthier pregnancies; however, uncertainty around the financial sustainability to support future mothers is unclear. If we want to see changes in premature birth rates and improvement in kindergarten readiness, we need to see what long-term sustainability can look like for racial-based cash payment programs. Investing in research to support groups who continuously live with theeffects of racism as they pertain to pregnancy is critical to driving national policy change through government funding. By funding the research necessary for pilot projects that need to compel systematic change at the federal level, philanthropy can make the difference between short-term, localized change to long-term, nationwide systemic change.
Emphasize Cash-Based Payments
Funders can allocate funds directly to people rather than default to the standardized method of funding organizations to redistribute the resources. The premise of a GI model works under the belief that people are experts in their own lives and that only they know what will and won't make a difference in addressing their individual challenges. Cash-based payment programs are not new, but they fell out of favor in the 1960s and '70s. Today, however, leaders are confronting the truth that poverty has been rampant (and worsened) for generations and that our sector’s solutions have not worked.
Invest in Narrative-Building Efforts to Shift Public Perceptions Away from Welfare Stereotypes
Stories are powerful tools that help people make sense of the world around them. When stories contribute and reinforce harmful views of a select group of people, our culture often adopts these beliefs shaping our relationships, decision-making, and behavior – ultimately creating dominant narratives.
While Guaranteed Income programs are entirely different than the more familiar welfare programs, public perceptions and misinformation often conflate these models together, perpetuating negative stereotypes. As we continue to see single mothers work for less to avoid the shame of receiving support or the continued mischaracterization and devaluation of boys of color, children bear the negative impact of not receiving the social supports they need. If philanthropy's role in society is to create positive change, there are ample opportunities to support positive narrative-building efforts. A few examples include:
Advancenarrative change. The purpose is to fundamentally rewire existing beliefs to shape positive perceptions rooted in humanity. It will require the collective effort of multiple stakeholders to change negative stereotypes; philanthropy can help advance narrative change by ensuring grantees have the capacity necessary to build active, long-standing narrative ecosystems.
Create a self-audit to determine how your foundation's communications and general business practices support narrative change. An opportunity for self-reflection helps challenge dominant narratives, reinforces the importance of existing methods, and helps shift priorities.
Invest in youth leadership. Generations have been misguided by negative stereotypes. Providing leadership opportunities for youth to take control of their own stories to determine the positive roles they can hold in communities can make a monumental impact on the way children see themselves. Putting youth in this driver's seat is essential in achieving racial and economic justice.