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Lightfoot unveils anti-poverty plan but says universal basic income isn’t the answer

Mayor Lori Lightfoot made her comments at the Solution Toward Ending Poverty Summit where experts spoke in length about ending poverty in Chicago.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduces the keynote speaker Dr. Michael McAfee, President and CEO of Policy Link, at the Solutions Toward Ending Poverty Summit at the Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum at UIC.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduces the keynote speaker Dr. Michael McAfee, President and CEO of Policy Link, at the Solutions Toward Ending Poverty Summit at the Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum at UIC.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is committed to ending poverty within a generation but she isn’t convinced universal basic income will do that.

“I am about teaching people how to fish, so they can feed themselves for a lifetime,” Lightfoot said Thursday at the Solution Toward Ending Poverty Summit at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“I want people to be able to stand on their own forever.”

Lightfoot said universal basic income — a theoretical financial stipend given to citizens regardless of income — will no doubt help people living in poverty but isn’t sustainable.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot hosted the Solution Toward Ending Poverty Summit where experts spoke in length about ending poverty in Chicago on Thursday.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot hosted the Solution Toward Ending Poverty Summit where experts spoke in length about ending poverty in Chicago on Thursday.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

During the day-long event, hosted by Lightfoot, the mayor’s office unveiled an ambitious plan to raise Chicagoans out of poverty. City officials said starting in the spring, they will learn how poverty impacts people’s lives by working with residents, researchers and organizers. This will lead to a roadmap to address the barriers that prevent residents from achieving upward economic mobility, officials said.

“There are a lot of low hanging fruit … that we can easily get done and make a huge difference,” Lightfoot said. “We will put out a set of specific milestones that we can reach and where people can judge us by.”

Nearly 20% of Chicagoans, or about 520,000 people, were living below the poverty line in 2018, according to most recent census data.

Thursday’s event at UIC featured panel discussions on the historical and systemic causes of poverty in Chicago, national examples for pulling people out of it and how public-private partnerships could help eradicate poverty.

Jocelyn Fontaine, a criminal justice researcher at the Urban Institute, drew links between poverty and the criminal justice system. The reintegration of those who were imprisoned back into society puts an unruly burden on families, she said during one panel discussion.

Fontaine said the city needs to rethink the role policies play with dictating how police officers interact with communities.

“When I think about solutions to poverty it very quickly gets into the criminal justice system and getting it out of people’s lives,” Fontaine said.

Fontaine said it’s fundamental for policymakers to work in tandem with people living in conditions of poverty to learn what can be done to solve it. It’s important to “lift their voices” up,” Fontaine said, making it clear that investing dollars directly into communities is an anti-violence strategy.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.