‘Guaranteed income’ would help close California’s racial wealth gap

Jul 13, 2020 | Cal Matters

In summary

A coalition of mayors are advocating for a guaranteed income that would improve the livelihood of many California children and families.

By Shimica Gaskins, Special to CalMatters


Shimica Gaskins is the executive director of
Children’s Defense Fund-California, a child advocacy organization, [email protected]

Throughout her childhood, Samantha Galindo remembers how her dad would come home exhausted from working multiple jobs. 

For five years, she worked with him cleaning offices from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., doing her homework on the bus, in between breaks or after returning home. They had few options. Without the work, they couldn’t afford rent and other necessities in the converted garage where they once lived. 

Samantha’s situation is not unique. Millions of Black, Indigenous and People of Color – BIPOC – are overrepresented in low-wage sectors which are more likely to not offer sick leave or health benefits. The situation is even more dire now. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated social, economic and racial inequities plaguing Black and Brown families.

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A coalition of mayors from across the country recently announced Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, advocating for a universal basic income to ensure that all Americans have an income base. It would be a much needed policy solution that would directly change the livelihood of many California children and families.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is one of several California mayors to join the network. Mayors from Compton, Long Beach, Stockton and Oakland are also committed to ending economic insecurity by advocating for a guaranteed income at the local, state and federal levels. 

Garcetti’s commitment has the potential to address racial wealth disparities that have been longstanding in Los Angeles. According to the Color of Wealth in Los Angeles report, racial and ethnic differences in net worth show that U.S. Black and Mexican households have 1% of the wealth of whites in Los Angeles – or 1 cent for every dollar of wealth held by the average white household in the metro area. In fact, White households in Los Angeles have a median net worth of $335,000 while Mexicans and Blacks have a median wealth of $3,500 and $4,000, respectively. Unfortunately, these wealth gaps are similar across the state. 

While a guaranteed income policy could help reduce poverty and wealth gaps, it is far from providing families with any form of wealth. Wealth enables one to think and purchase beyond the necessities. Wealth is a home in a nice, safe neighborhood with quality schools; wealth is extravagant meals from nice restaurants; wealth is college tuition. 

When advocating for a policy with a guaranteed income, Children’s Defense Fund-California and others are envisioning monetary support that will allow one to feel a sense of security. Guaranteed income is a night without thinking about how rent will be paid; guaranteed income is the ability to purchase and prepare a healthy meal for your family; guaranteed income is a smile on a child’s face when they see a new outfit or pair of shoes. 

Samantha said a guaranteed income of $500 to $1,000 a month would be equal to one of her dad’s jobs.

“He works four jobs right now, sometimes five,” she said. “It would literally take off one whole job for my dad, which would give him a break, some time to take care of himself and his health because he is at an age that he shouldn’t be working the way he does.”

Samantha, who is now 19, said it would also give her peace of mind. In addition to taking care of his own needs, he is working to help put her through college and she worries about the stress it causes him. 

“I know how hard he works,” said Samantha, who is entering her second year at University of California, Berkeley.

A guaranteed income would provide additional financial resources to hardworking families, helping to stabilize households in very tangible ways. Families living in impoverished neighborhoods are at a higher risk for mental health conditions, chronic diseases and lower life expectancy. We must take this bold step to economically uplift California’s most vulnerable families and help make communities healthier for all.

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