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Guaranteed Annual Income

January 30, 2012

I read a study a year ago or so, and then was suddenly reminded of it in a recent conversation.  After re-reading the study, I decided that it was so cool that I just had to blog about it.  Unfortunately, the original study by Dr. Evelyn Forget was taken down from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research website, and so I was not able to access it.  A summary is available at through blogger Al Etmanski.

Etmanski writes:

From 1974 through 1978, as part of a labour market experiment called MINCOME, all of the almost 13,000 citizens in and around Dauphin, Manitoba were Guaranteed Annual Income support to keep them above the poverty line.

Some remarkable results emerged from this study.  Here were some findings:

  • Hospitalizations, accidents and injuries declined in Dauphin compared to the control group
  • Hospitalizations were down significantly for mental health issues – significant if you believe poverty is related to stress.
  • Birth rates among young women also declined.  There had been a political concern the people would stop working and start having large families. “But we found that, if anything, birth rates among the youngest women declined.” Dr. Forget observed.
  • Along with the positive health results, Dr. Forget found that teenagers stayed in school longer, likely because their families were assured of a minimum income.  At the time finishing high school was not the cultural norm in rural Manitoba.  During the experiment years, education enrollment in Dauphin surged compared to other areas of the province.”

Also remarkable is that the only two demographics that worked less as a result of MINCOME were new mothers and teenagers.

Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies. And teenagers worked less because they weren’t under as much pressure to support their families.

Upon its conclusion, the results of this study were buried—when the government lost interest in the project— until 2009, when a report was published on it. Many are saying that it is regrettable that Manitoba didn’t continue by making Guaranteed Annual Income a province-wide experiment.

To the best of my knowledge, a Guaranteed Annual Income (sometimes called Guaranteed Minimum Income) plan has not been instigated before or since this experiment.  I could be wrong on this. But it certainly seems to me that this would be an incredible avenue to explore!  What seems to be a very naive and idealistic approach to economics actually appears to have had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the community of Dauphin.  Who knows what would have happened if Manitoba had turned this into a province-wide project!

It is clear from the results that the implementation of this project had very positive effects on both the health of the individuals in the community as well as the community as a whole.  As stated above, hospitalizations and mental health issues greatly diminished.

Because the study was discontinued, we don’t know if this is a long-term viable project. It certainly worked out better than I would have guessed from first glancing at the idea though.  I am no expert, but this looks to me like a pretty practical and viable way to deal with many issues of poverty in our society.

In closing, I’d like to quote a man whose opinion is very well respected in many circles, and who was a very strong advocate of this concept:

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. suzanne gross permalink
    January 30, 2012 8:00 pm

    I love this experiment and am not surprised by the results. I’ve always felt that if everyone had a guaranteed minimum income that is equivalent to a true liveable wage, that there would in fact be a trickle up phenomenon!

  2. January 31, 2012 2:19 am

    Speaking on a related topic, here’s a campaign in Alberta (catering to my own post from a while ago, apologies Miriam!) looking at hiking public services. If any Canadian province could afford to implement something like Guaranteed Annual Income, it would be Alberta.

  3. miriamthewalrus permalink*
    January 31, 2012 9:11 am

    After wondering why you wanted hiking to be a public service, I realized what you were on about and thought this a jolly good idea! When Alberta is actually doing *well* in the middle fo a global recession, you *know* that we have the kind of money that should be spread around a bit more.

  4. February 2, 2012 5:48 pm

    “Money is like manure. It doesn’t do any good unless you spread it around”. Or something like that. I have spent a fair bit of my adult life on “social programs”. Usually due to chronic health issues which made it difficult or impossible to work. What good does all the money do being stored up in some government fund somewhere? If everyone was ensured an annual income the money would eventually make its way back to the source, then be redistributed. I mean what would people do with it? Pay rent, buy food, buy gasoline, and no doubt there would likely be a fair bit spent on booze and cigarettes. Rather than have the poor lining up for social programs, and depending on the government to take care of them, just give them the cash. Jack up the GST to 10%, and then just give it back to the people who are spending the money anyway. Perhaps it seems like a simplistic solution. But in a country as rich as ours. Nobody should be going hungry, or living in the street…

    • miriamthewalrus permalink*
      February 2, 2012 9:09 pm

      Precisely! Putting all these limits and restrictions on social programs just creates more stress and hardship for people.

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