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  • AMNA NAWAZ: The economy may be doing well by many measures, but, for years, there have

  • been real concerns over wage growth and the overall standard of living.

  • So, perhaps it's not surprising that at least one recent survey showed growing public support

  • for a new government program that would guarantee some income to citizens.

  • There are small pilot projects of how it could work.

  • In this reprised report, our own economics correspondent Paul Solman travels to Canada

  • to see one of the larger programs for our ongoing series Chasing the Dream on poverty

  • and opportunity.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Cheerios, sans gluten, without gluten.

  • ALANA BALTZER, Ontario: I may not speak French, but I have been in a bilingual country my

  • entire life, so I know what the French actually...

  • PAUL SOLMAN: What sans gluten means.

  • ALANA BALTZER: Yes.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: A Tuesday trudge to the local grocery store in Hamilton, Ontario.

  • ALANA BALTZER: Love the organic vegetables.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: This is the first time 29-year-old Alana Baltzer has been able to afford the

  • healthy food here at the Mustard Seed Co-op, because, she says, when you're poor:

  • ALANA BALTZER: It's buy the stuff that you can afford, which is generally quick, easy

  • and all processed and high in sugar and trans fats and all the other unhealthy stuff.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: That's all that Baltzer could afford on her $575-a-month welfare disability

  • check.

  • But Ontario will now give her $1,130 U.S., no questions asked, as part of a three-year

  • basic income pilot launched late last year.

  • NARRATOR: Around the world, people believe that basic income could provide a simpler

  • and more effective income support.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: The idea's also being piloted in Finland and California.

  • Now it's Ontario too.

  • KATHLEEN WYNNE, Premier of Ontario: How are people's lives changed, and how are they able

  • to do better in their lives, prevent illness, stay in school, get jobs and keep jobs?

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

  • KATHLEEN WYNNE: We should be looking at different ways of providing support, ways that actually

  • don't punish people, but actually support people in getting on with their lives and

  • produce better outcomes.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Four thousand randomly selected Ontarians in three communities will get about

  • $13,000 a year U.S. for a single person, $19,000 for a couple.

  • In exchange, recipients give up some social supports and the government gets back 50 cents

  • of every dollar they earn.

  • DR.

  • KWAME MCKENZIEMD-BO¯ Wellesley Institute: It is definitely the biggest basic income

  • study that there's ever been in North America.

  • You don't have to show that you're sick.

  • You don't have to show that you can't work.

  • You get it as a right.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Research director Kwame McKenzie and his team will analyze the results.

  • DR.

  • KWAME MCKENZIE: We're going to see whether it increases your chance of coming out of

  • poverty.

  • We're trying to see if it makes your housing stable.

  • We're trying to see whether it improves your mental health, whether it basically decreases

  • your use of other services, such as hospital beds.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Turns out Manitoba launched a basic income experiment in 1974 that the provincial

  • government there later pulled the plug on.

  • DR.

  • KWAME MCKENZIE: It was an incomplete study.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: But, long after, researchers studying the data found:

  • DR.

  • KWAME MCKENZIE: We have got less health service use.

  • We have got mental health improving.

  • We have got people going back to college and they're getting better, getting better skills

  • to move forward.

  • This is a great thing, right?

  • PAUL SOLMAN: But was it a fluke?

  • And could the same policy produce like results 40-plus years later?

  • Well, for Jodi Dean and family, the answer seems to be yes.

  • Ten-year-old daughter Madison has suffered from both brittle bone disease and epilepsy

  • since toddlerhood.

  • Yes, Canada has universal health care, but not for the E.R. commute.

  • JODI DEAN, Mother: As far as parking goes, we're not covered for that.

  • That's $25 an emergency visit.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: How many times has she broken bones?

  • JODI DEAN: She's probably had at least 70 breaks.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: How many times a month do you have to pay for parking?

  • JODI DEAN: Two to three times a week.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Basic income now covers, in effect, half the parking bill, a huge relief for someone

  • who never dreamed she'd be poor, used to volunteer at the food bank, then found she couldn't

  • live without it.

  • JODI DEAN: How do you go back to where you just gave that time and tell them now you're

  • in need?

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Jodi Dean, like Alana Baltzer, lives in Hamilton, a once-thriving steel city

  • of 750,000 within an hour of Toronto.

  • TOM COOPER, Director, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction: We used to have 40,000

  • people working directly in steel, and, today, it's probably closer to 7,000.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Tom Cooper, who directs an anti-poverty project, claims he's already seen benefits

  • from the program.

  • TOM COOPER: Many of the individuals I have talked to who are on the basic income pilot

  • are going back to school, wanting to improve their opportunities to get a better job.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Moreover, he says:

  • TOM COOPER: There's not the oversight we see in traditional social assistance systems that

  • requires people to report monthly on their income or their housing status or their relationship

  • status.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: While most poor Ontarians didn't make it into the pilot, Baltzer did, and no

  • longer has to deal with the provincial welfare system.

  • ALANA BALTZER: You do not have the bureaucracy involved with welfare or disability.

  • If you get a job, you simply call, let them know, give them the information, submit your

  • pay stubs, bada boom, bada bing, done

  • PAUL SOLMAN: And your mom made it on to the program.

  • Has it made a difference in her life?

  • ALANA BALTZER: Oh, God, yes.

  • She's more ecstatic about not having to deal with Ontario Works, the welfare workers.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: The pilot has even induced Baltzer to lose five pounds since November, more exercise,

  • more confidence.

  • ALANA BALTZER: The first time in years I have been able to wear high heels without groaning

  • in absolute pain and sheer agony.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: As for the depression she has long struggled to fend off:

  • ALANA BALTZER: It's nice to not have a full-blown episode because I'm worried about whether

  • or not I'm going to be able to eat tonight or be able to pay my rent or do something

  • as simple as laundry.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Other pluses?

  • Well, from the government's point of view, it no longer has to subsidize Baltzer's housing,

  • so the pilot is costing Ontario less than $700 a month more.

  • DR.

  • KWAME MCKENZIE: It's important to measure that and measure sort of use of government

  • services.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: But Baltzer attends college in the fall, as now planned, and then gets a

  • job, government would be off the hook entirely.

  • DR.

  • KWAME MCKENZIE: And it's also important to measure whether people are actually generating

  • wealth, because everybody's thinking often about the cost, but people don't always think

  • about the possible economic benefits.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: But, look, say skeptics, basic income will cost a pretty, albeit Canadian,

  • penny going out, while benefits may never actually flow in.

  • DAVID WAKELY, Attorney: I don't think the savings are actually going to be there.

  • So, I think that's misleading.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: That's local lawyer David Wakely, who says, if the program is extended universally,

  • it would cost Ontario two-thirds of its annual revenue.

  • And he doubts recipients will go to school or get a job.

  • DAVID WAKELY: Where someone can stay home and get a basic income guarantee, this just

  • serves as a security blanket for them, because they have always got this income to rely on.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: And as I asked former U.S. union leader Andy Stern, isn't that the time-honored

  • objection to a basic income?

  • If you pay people to do nothing, isn't that an incentive for them to continue to do nothing?

  • ANDY STERN, Economic Security Project: There are always people who are going to stay at

  • home and take advantage of government programs.

  • There are a lot of wealthy people and children who are paid to do nothing, and it doesn't

  • seem to affect them being vital and involved in society.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: John Clarke of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty doesn't worry about poor people

  • taking advantage of a basic income.

  • But he does worry that the program is a move to take advantage of them by laying the groundwork

  • for the elimination of government-provided social workers, health care, the eventual

  • privatization of social services.

  • JOHN CLARKE, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: So you're shopping for health care, you're

  • shopping for housing, you're shopping for public transportation, child care, all these

  • things.

  • And this is the prevailing agenda at the moment.

  • And a basic income system takes us in that direction.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: Moreover, says Clarke, a basic income creates downward wage pressure on the

  • working poor.

  • JOHN CLARKE: If you create a situation where low-wage workers are receiving a significant

  • portion of their wages out of the tax revenues, then the pressure on employers to increase

  • wages is reduced, the pressure on governments to increase minimum wages is reduced.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: So how to know then if the costs outweigh the benefits?

  • DR.

  • KWAME MCKENZIE: We can all of these theoretical discussions, or we can say let's do a test

  • and see what actually happens.

  • What are the costs?

  • Is it a more efficient way of giving people who need it support?

  • What are the benefits?

  • Does it grow the economy or not?

  • And then we can have a rational discussion based on evidence, rather than just based

  • on theory.

  • PAUL SOLMAN: And rather than based on promises of breaking the cycle of poverty, which might

  • or might not, in the end, be mainly smoke and mirrors.

  • For the "PBS NewsHour," this is economics correspondent Paul Solman reporting, mainly

  • from Ontario.

  • AMNA NAWAZ: Tomorrow on the "NewsHour," more in our Chasing the Dream series, with a report

  • on helping people remain stable after they start work and begin to earn incomes again.

AMNA NAWAZ: The economy may be doing well by many measures, but, for years, there have