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This 1970’s experiment shows why a Guaranteed Annual Income could work in Canada

Guaranteed Annual Income Canada

Guaranteed Annual Income Canada

Could a guaranteed annual income work in Canada?

Some new research has been conducted on an old experiment, namely, the “Mincome” or minimum basic income program of the 1970‘s set in the town of Dauphin, Manitoba.

That project saw the Canadian federal government and the province of Manitoba chip in to support a social experiment that would last for five years between 1974 and 1979, a time during which every citizen of the town of 10,000 would be eligible to receive monthly cheques – whether or not they had a job, and the money would be used to supplement their income up to a designated point indexed to the cost of living.

The program was one of several small scale experiments carried out in the United States and Canada to study the idea of the guaranteed annual income (GAI) and to test its viability in a real world scenario. In Dauphin, although no official report was ever released on the project, anecdotal evidence, along with a study produced by economist Evelyn Forget in 2011, indicated that Mincome was a moderate success.

Many observers wondered whether people in Dauphin would just stop working (or at least start working less) since a pay cheque was in the mail either way.

But for the most part, that didn’t happen.

Those who had jobs but still floated below the poverty level were given a top-up while other groups such as new mothers stopped working because they wanted to stay home longer with their families.

“For people who did not qualify for welfare under traditional schemes -particularly the elderly, the working poor and single, employable males- Mincome meant a significant increase in income,” says Forget. “Mincome offered stability and predictability; families knew they could count on at least some support. They knew that sudden illness, disability or unpredictable economic events would not be financially devastating.” Other positive impacts were a drop in hospital and psychiatric hospitalizations.

In general, the Mincome program helped to blur the line between the deserving and, according to some, the undeserving poor and allowed participants to live their lives with dignity; an essential component of a healthy, functioning society, says Calnitsky.

Today, a new study argues that aside from the modicum of financial security (and the stress release that goes along with it) the Mincome program worked because unlike welfare programs, Dauphin residents didn’t feel stigmatized when taking advantage of Mincome. The autonomy afforded to citizens using Mincome was a key factor, says study author David Calnitsky, doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It was not uncommon for people who wished to earn a living on their own to simultaneously collect Mincome payments comfortably. Participants appreciated the feeling of independence that comes from ‘earning’ a living but often cannot earn sufficient employment income,” says Calnitsky.
In general, the Mincome program helped to blur the line between the deserving and, according to some, the undeserving poor and allowed participants to live their lives with dignity; an essential component of a healthy, functioning society, says Calnitsky.

“By obscuring the distinctions among low wage workers, unemployed workers, and social assistance recipients, universalistic income maintenance programs may reduce the barriers to communication between otherwise separated people,” says Calnitsky.

And before you think guaranteed annual income is merely a relic from the ’70‘s, we should point out that over last fall’s campaign trail, both the Green Party of Canada and the Liberal Party expressed interest in the idea, and according to Yahoo! News, just over the past month Ontario city councils in Kingston and the Niagara region voted in favour of developing guaranteed income programs and Quebec premier Philippe Couillard appointed a cabinet committee to look into the idea.

The Mincome study is currently available online in the journal Canadian Review of Sociology.

 

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.

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One thought on “This 1970’s experiment shows why a Guaranteed Annual Income could work in Canada

  1. Anyone that thinks this would work on a large scale got to be kidding!! Sure it works in a town of ten thousand people where the federal government supported by a proportionately huge population is putting up the money. When you try to get a country to do it and fund it, you have a very big problem!! Where is the money going to come from??? Look no further than Greece for an end result. Wealth has to be created before it can be consumed!!!!!

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