This spring, 30 people in Newark began receiving a $12,000 income over the next two years, with no strings attached as to how the individual spends it. The program is part of Newark’s universal basic income (UBI) pilot, created to provide housing security for some of the city’s poorest residents. While novel, this is not the first universal basic income experiment in New Jersey.
In the late 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity launched a pilot program in Trenton, Passaic, Paterson and Jersey City that granted some participating families of four $4,352 a year (approximately $30,000 today). A closer look at the outcome of this 1960s pilot shows that Newark’s 2021 pilot can enact real change. Newark’s current pilot program removes the punitive aspects of most UBI programs of the past, but it can only fulfill that promise if the permanent program it inspires increases the proposed annual payout.