There is evidence that guaranteed income programs tend to positively affect job prospects and long-term economic stability for those who receive them. But many communities, because of ideology, stigma, or other reasons, can’t get leaders to buy in. Nashville is one such example.
Jamel Campbell-Gooch is an advocate for north Nashville.
“A lot of the times when we bring up Nashville on the national scene, they bring up things like hot chicken or they bring up the country music. But what’s interesting is that everything that the average person knows about Nashville was born from the Black folks in north Nashville,” Campbell-Gooch said. “We’re constantly told that there’s no investment for us as far as community programs. But when we look around, there’s constantly new renovation happening.”
These days, that looks like gentrification in the historically Black community of north Nashville. But for community advocates, it seems like roadblocks and stop signs on an idea they believe can lift its people.
Guaranteed basic income gives people in need a set amount of money every month, with no conditions. In recent years, it’s moved from an abstract idea to a proven approach to attacking poverty.
Laura Zabel has seen what guaranteed income does.
Last year, we flew to the Twin Cities to spotlight her nonprofit, Springboard for the Arts, and its plan to give $500 a month to artists struggling for work during the pandemic. Now it’s seeing results.
“The spending data for the artists in our pilot looks very much like the pilots that are happening all across the country,” Zabel said.
Dozens of cities have launched guaranteed income programs for groups of all kinds. A group that tracked nearly 6,000 participants found they spent almost 70% of what they received at Target and Walmart, supermarkets, and grocery stores.
“There’s so much research now around guaranteed income that people actually end up having better jobs at the end of their time receiving the guaranteed income because they were able to have the time and space and resources to look for a better job,” Zabel said.
That proved the case even in Campbell-Gooch’s home state.
Six years ago, wildfires destroyed more than a thousand homes in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Dollywood Foundation created a fund that gave a $1,000 a month for six months to 900 families.
Gatlinburg is rural and mostly white. The funding for its residents was entirely private, not from taxpayers. And the money came after a singular tragedy, not decades of systemic challenges.
It’s all why the organizers in north Nashville constantly need to make noise.
“We are talking about building a $2 billion NFL stadium. But still, again, there is no conversation happening on that level about a guaranteed basic income,” Campbell-Gooch said.
For Campbell-Gooch and his coalition, the movement will soon restart. They plan to approach city leaders with a package of programs to lift the citizens of north Nashville. Among them is guaranteed basic income.
“The movement with guarantee basic income that is happening across the country? I think my number one fear is that Nashville is going to be left behind,” Campbell-Gooch said.