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Universal Basic Income may be a way to break cycle of violence

Ameya Pawar with Fran Spielman

Ald. Ameya Pawar is interviewed by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman at City Hall last year. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Whenever someone tells me if “poor” people had more money, we could stop the killings, I want to scream.

Those are not “poor” people firing guns on our streets and killing our children.

Those are people without hope.

There’s a difference.

I grew up in a neighborhood of poor people and we weren’t killing each other. Yes, there was crime, but children were safe when they walked down a street or rode in a car.

Somehow we knew our poverty wasn’t a permanent condition.

Last week, when Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) came in to talk to the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board about a pilot plan aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty, I understood how important it is for us to help the poor from becoming the hopeless.

Pawar, whom the Sun-Times endorsed in the city treasurer’s race, has a heart for the impoverished.

Several months ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose him to chair a task force to consider how to bring economic security to struggling Chicagoans.

The Chicago Resilient Families Task Force’s pilot plan (to be paid for by a mix of public and private funds), would give $1,000 cash monthly to 1,000 low-income individuals for 1-1/2 years with no strings attached.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the latest trendy proposal to lift people over the poverty line.

Finland just ended its two-year UBI trial in January, with researchers concluding “the income scheme did not spur its unemployed recipients to work more to supplement their earnings as hoped, but it did help their well-being,” Reuters reported.

In fact, the chief researcher for the Finland trial found the “test group (received $635 US monthly) reported better well-being in every way (than) the comparison group,” according to Reuters.

Well-being may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t.

Well-being could have stopped a gunman from firing into a car filled with children Thursday evening, striking a 1-year-old boy in the head.

On Friday afternoon, Dejohn “Chase” Irving was on life support.

Police believe the boy’s mother, who was shot in the past, may have been the target.

“The boy’s father is serving time in a federal prison. And the father of the boy’s older brother, who was also in the vehicle, was killed in a previous shooting,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

It is easy to see how those series of unfortunate events could have led to the 1-year-old fighting for his life.

Could $1,000 a month flowing into the household have made a difference in the lives of a family entangled in such a web of violence?

And could a basic guaranteed income have made it less likely that the gunman would have fired into a car filled with people?

One of the questions the Sun-Times asked mayoral and aldermanic candidates was what could be done to drastically reduce gun violence, and most of them responded predictably.

Many of them said we needed to eliminate glaring inequities, provide job training and jobs, improve schools, create more mentoring programs and stop the flow of illegal guns.

But as Pawar so eloquently pointed out to the editorial board, work no longer guarantees that someone will be able to climb out of poverty.

For instance, the Chicago Resilient Families Task Force report cites the plight of a woman named Tichina: “It’s just not fair when, yeah, you get a job, but you get a job to ‘make ends meet’ or you don’t have anything left to thrive or change your situation. You just get by, and who wants to just get by all their lives? I’m 25, and I’m already tired.”

It is depressing to think that over one million Chicagoans had low incomes last year, and half of those people were living at the poverty level.

Consider how many people are walking around this city today feeling left out, cheated and bitter.

It should not be surprising that some of those people have given up on life.

Given the city and state’s dire finances, it is easy to dismiss the UBI pilot program as another form of welfare.

But if $1,000 a month could keep an impoverished mother from turning a blind eye to illegal activity that puts food on her table, but leads to gun violence, it would be worth it.

If $1,000 a month could keep a vulnerable young person from falling into the prison pipeline, it would be worth it.

If $1,000 a month could help the discouraged see the light at the end of the tunnel, it would be worth it.

We wouldn’t be buying peace.

We would be investing in hope.