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  • 06.07.17

What Would People Do With A Basic Income? Let Them Explain In Their Own Words

What would people do with an extra $1,000 a month? As the applications for a new film about the cash transfer policy show, they’d rebuild their broken American dreams.

What Would People Do With A Basic Income? Let Them Explain In Their Own Words
“A whole lot of people are hurting out there and in ways that a little cash security would allow them to fix on their own.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Filmmakers Deia Schlosberg and Conrad Shaw want to give 20 people $250 a week for two years, and then follow those recipients to see how the money affects life choices, and working habits. Their documentary, about people living on a universal basic income (UBI), is designed to sell the concept to a wide audience. They plan to release the film during the next presidential election campaign.

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Not surprisingly, when you offer people free money, they react enthusiastically. Since Fast Company and others wrote about the film and its fundraising effort–George Takei also helpfully made reference on Facebook–Schlosberg and Shaw have received more than 10,000 applications from people wanting to participate. (There are currently several basic income experiments going on, including one set up by startup accelerator Y Combinator in Oakland, and others in Kenya and Finland.)

“It would be nice to not ‘just survive.'” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]
“A whole lot of people are hurting out there and in ways that a little cash security would allow them to fix on their own,” Shaw says of the response. “Most of them hadn’t heard of basic income, but they’ve now had their eyes opened to it in a positive ‘what would you do with it?’ light, and they’re fascinated and excited.”

The responses are interesting for showing the struggles–and ambitions–of everyday Americans, and the potential for small amounts of guaranteed income to make a difference (perhaps). Leaving out names and overly personal details, we’re sharing some of the compelling applications here. They show a sobering window into the struggles of many Americans who can’t make ends meet. And as you see people make the case for how cash payments might change their life, you can see how those changed lives might also reshape society.

“This money could go a long way into helping my family become financially free.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Start a business

From a 32-year-old former active duty soldier: “What I would do with the extra income is use it to start my own business. I’ve watched my whole family struggle working jobs they hated, just to survive. My mother passed away in 2014, at the age of 58. She hated her job. She wished she could own her own business. Even if we struggled, at least she would be happy. I don’t want that for my family or myself. This money could go a long way into helping my family become financially free.”

From a 46-year-old “cat mom”: “I recently invented a pet product that I hope will be a huge hit for cat owners! My father gave me money to create CAD drawings and a prototype for [a new cat product]. I should have the prototype within the next three weeks . . . I would use the extra $1,000 [a month] for general living expenses, to pay off as much credit as possible, and to help me launch.”

From a 27-year-old graduate with a physics degree: “I am homeless in the Los Angeles region. I have taught myself how to code in Python and JavaScript. I am hoping to do research with a professor to learn more about coding and eventually start a software company . . . If chosen, I would use this money to pay for basic housing and food (oh, and health insurance). If only dreams like this were possible for the poor.”

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From a disabled veteran with a three-year-old son: “I recently started my own vegan makeup and skin care company in hopes that my passion for the beauty industry . . . will allow us to live free from the fears of our medical retirements from the VA being cut . . . With a UBI I would be able to continue developing formulas . . . and have the capital to complete minimum orders from my wholesale suppliers. We so desperately want to earn our own living and assimilate back as productive civilians.”

From an aspiring entrepreneur: “I started a candle business but ran into some serious health issues. This led to years of treatment, surgery, bankruptcy, and living in a van. We need a home and I need my business back. It’s all I think about. The basic income would give us the freedom to work on both.”

And her husband, in a separate application: “[My wife] has a business making and selling candles which, as it turns out, is not very van friendly. I would keep working, as I actually love my job [at Jiffy Lube]. We would use the extra money to put a home over our heads and reboot [my wife’s] candle business.”

“Get a membership to a boxing gym, get good food, and solely spend it on wellness.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Focus On Health

From a 54-year-old married woman from Portland, Oregon: “If I had $250/week, I would put every penny toward my health: get a membership to a boxing gym, get good food, and solely spend it on wellness. That would include wellness for my rescue dog!”

“If I had a guaranteed $1,000, I wouldn’t stop everything else that I do.”[Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Get Over Addiction

“I am about to turn 50 this year, and I’ve seen a lot in my life. I’ve been to hell and back, to be honest. I’ve just ended a 12-year opiate addiction, and I’m finding it very hard to get back into the way that I used to live, that being an eight-to-five accounting job. In fact, I’m finding that I’ve been changed so much by my experiences, that there is no way I’d even attempt to go back to that life. I believe that my recovery will be a lifelong process. Each day feels a little different–some not so good days, some surprisingly okay days. I’ve been clean today for one year, two months, and 19 days. I make it now by doing ‘gigs,’ as well as working from home for my son’s social media marketing company. I also rent to my other son and his girlfriend, and their two cats. If I had an extra $250 a week I’d continue to do what I’m doing, but life would be a little easier, and maybe I could be a little more choosy about which gigs I pick. It would be nice to not ‘just survive,’ and if I had a guaranteed $1,000, I wouldn’t stop everything else that I do.”

“I could use the UBI to supplement my income. I could live comfortably, and feel financial security again.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Pay Off Some Bills (Or Debt)

From a 32-year-old woman in Minnesota: “I currently work at a library. Although I’m underpaid, my job offers me security. I pay $800 in rent for an apartment that I share with my cat, and occasionally my long-distance boyfriend. I drive a 1995 Honda Civic, and am still paying on my student loans. I’m unmarried, and have no children. In the next five years, I’d like to be able to pay off my student loans, get a car that isn’t rusting to pieces, purchase a home, and start a family. I’d also love to be able to afford to travel, but for now I just stick to camping!”

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From a “very educated” 57-year-old, semi-retired female college professor: “Currently, I teach two or three college algebra courses online and on campus, two nights a week. At my age, there is no hope to obtain a full- time position in academia again. Financially, I am struggling. I own my own home and have been forced to rent two of my rooms out to make it on my part-time adjunct instructor salary. A UBI of $250 a week would absolutely make a difference in my life. I could teach part time and use the UBI to supplement my income. I could live comfortably, and feel financial security again.”

From a 26-year-old occupational therapy graduate student from the Chicago suburbs: “I joke that watching me spend $1,000 would be pretty boring if all it included was hitting the pay button on my student loans because that’s really where all of my money should be going. In reality as I complete my masters program at the end of the year and transition into living on my own again . . . I’ll be doing some extreme budgeting to stretch my income to cover all of my basic expenses. As a grad student, I’ve learned to stop impulse buying and instead wait 30 days between all nonessential purchases . . . $1,000 a month would really help me to achieve more balance in my spending.”

“I would hope to be able to engage with my community, politically and socially.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Take A Deep Breath

If I had $1,000 a month, I might stand in one place, quietly exhaling with my eyes shut, for 15 or even 20 seconds before I resumed looking for a part-time job. Not very exciting, maybe, but my monthly expenses do exceed that amount and I have no savings, so I would still need a bit of a financial boost before I could concentrate on my writing. I would hope to be able to engage with my community, politically and socially, and to kick a few dollars my friend’s way. (She is running for office soon and I’d love to be able to help her.) I also am eager to explore cognitive behavioral therapy, to learn how to bake choux pastry and play the mandolin and make a 5th Avenue braid, but I should probably stop here.”

“For the better part of my life, I’ve wanted to sing. But, I felt like no one has ever heard me.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Do Something Artistic

From a single mother of two children: “I have struggled with work and childcare ever since my sons’ father left our lives. I am currently doing freelance work on the internet for a transcribing company as well as working as a call center rep from home for a magazine company that sponsors a yearly sweepstakes. This is not where I would like for things to be. With an extra $1,000 a month, I would venture out and do something that I really love—singing. For the better part of my life, I’ve wanted to sing. But, I felt like no one has ever heard me.”

From a 79-year-“young” American: “I would finally work on my arts project: ornery, irreverent view miniature sculptures, unusual ‘make you take a second look’ objects. Having a very fixed income forces me now to focus on ‘making it’ month to month. The extra money would allow me to focus on making art. Thanks for even considering this opportunity.”

“Unfortunately, I do not have resources I need to get out of my parents’ house, being that I am in a terrible financial situation.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Get Educated

From a 19-year-old woman with a six-month-old son. “I enjoy learning about everything under the sun, I am a very curious person! I enjoy playing football, skateboarding, and spending time with my girlfriend and son. I’m very determined and self-confident. Unfortunately, I do not have resources I need to get out of my parents’ house, being that I am in a terrible financial situation. I cannot go buy a house or rent an apartment with the local jobs that offer $10 and hour or less without a college education . . . I would spend the extra money on knowledge from reputable millionaires who offer training programs guaranteed to expand income tenfold, so I won’t have to be worried about being trapped in the ‘rat race’ millions of Americans have tremendous difficulty escaping. I’ve always wanted to show people that college is not the only way out, you do not need a four- to six-year education to make a six-figure salary.”

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“I went to school for agriculture, but have struggled with beginning farming.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Start A Farm

“I currently work in California, where it is crazy busy. I would love to use the money to pursue my dream, which is to officially become a farmer. I currently work for the agriculture field in a government agency. I went to school for agriculture, but have struggled with beginning farming since I came from Houston almost three years ago. It’s been a big dream of mine and I would love to be a first-generation female farmer.”

“My full-time job is only three days a week, which is not enough to live off. I have another part-time job, but it pays minimum wage.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Make Fixes

From a worker at a small nonprofit rape crisis center: “The pay to respond to survivors of sexual violence is low. It’s enough to get by in a midwest city. However, [I’m] still just getting by. Social workers are some of the lowest paid professionals in America. What would I do with an extra $1,000 a month? I’d have enough to invest in the ways that my friends who went into IT are able to invest, I suspect. I’d be able to afford home repairs I currently neglect and little luxuries, which help to combat some of the vicarious trauma I experience in my work.

“I would use the money to get out of debt or spend it on having my windows replaced in my house. They’re very energy inefficient but cost about $700 a window to replace. My septic system is broken so I could actually save up to get it fixed. I am about $20,000 in debt not including car and mortgage payments. My full-time job is only three days a week, which is not enough to live off. I have another part-time job, but it pays minimum wage. Please consider me. The help that money would provide would be so valuable to me.”

“It is increasingly difficult for people my age to afford the lives that are pretty much taken for granted in previous generations.” [Illustration: wacomka/iStock]

Buy A House

A 32-year-old millennial from the Seattle area: “On a personal level, I spend what I have not saved toward retirement and emergencies on travel, staying reasonably active, and getting a taste of the outdoors, craft beers, and the privilege to play kickball, dominate at bar trivia, and ruin people’s ears at karaoke. If I were to get an extra $1,000 a month, I might be tempted to head down to Portland and make it rain in the strip club, but I would most likely use it to save for a down payment on a home.”

From 34-year old self-described millennial working a full-time, professional job at a private university: “Just today I was talking with a friend about how the boomers and gen Xers all seem to have achieved the American dream, but that dream has been completely shattered for most of us who are younger. It is increasingly difficult for people my age to afford the lives that are pretty much taken for granted in previous generations. I’m not talking about two cars, a McMansion, and three kids going to private school; we can’t even afford apartment housing . . . If I had an extra $1,000 a month, I would save it to build a tiny house, 100% financed by myself and not on any form of credit. I would continue to minimize my lifestyle and finally have, at least, a stable, modest home and sanctuary from which I can continue to battle this brave new world.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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