Where Basic Income Has Been Tested Worldwide

What if everyone received monthly payments to make life easier and encourage greater economic activity? That’s the exact premise behind Universal Basic Income (UBI).

The idea of UBI as a means to both combat poverty and improve economic prospects has been around for decades. With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on economies worldwide, momentum behind the idea has seen a resurgence among certain groups.

Of course, the money to fund basic income programs has to come from somewhere. UBI relies heavily on government budgets or direct funding to cover the regular payments.

As policymakers examine this trade-off between government spending and the potential benefits, there is a growing pool of data to draw inferences from. In fact, basic income has been piloted and experimented on all around the world—but with a mixed bag of results.

What Makes Basic Income Universal?

UBI operates by giving people the means to meet basic necessities with a regular stipend. In theory, this leaves them free to spend their money and resources on economic goods, or searching for better employment options.

Before examining the programs, it’s important to make a distinction between basic income and universal basic income.

attributes of ubi programs

With these parameters in mind, and thanks to data from the Stanford Basic Income Lab, we’ve mapped 48 basic income programs that demonstrate multiple features of UBI and are regularly cited in basic income policy.

Some mapped programs are past experiments used to evaluate basic income. Others are ongoing or new pilots, including recently launched programs in Germany and Spain.

Recently, Canada joined the list as countries considering UBI as a top policy priority in a post-COVID world. But as past experiments show, ideas around basic income can be implemented in many different ways.

Basic Income Programs Took Many Forms

Basic income pilots have seen many iterations across the globe. Many paid out in U.S. dollars, while others chose to stick with local currencies (marked by an asterisk for estimated USD value).

Program Location Recipients Payment Frequency Amount ($US/yr) Dates
Abundant Birth Project San Francisco, U.S. 100 Monthly $12,000-$18,000 TBD
Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Alaska, U.S. 667,047 Annually $1,000-$2,000 1982-Present
B-MINCOME Barcelona, Spain 1,000 Monthly $1,392-$23,324* 2017-2019
Baby’s First Years New York, U.S. 1,000 Monthly $240-$3,996 2017-2022
Baby’s First Years New Orleans, U.S. 1,000 Monthly $240-$3,996 2017-2022
Baby’s First Years Omaha, U.S. 1,000 Monthly $240-$3,996 2017-2022
Baby’s First Years Twin Cities, U.S. 1,000 Monthly $240-$3,996 2017-2022
Basic Income for Farmers Gyeonggi Province, South Korea 430,000 Annually $509* TBD
Basic Income Grant (BIG) Pilot Omitara, Namibia 930 Monthly $163* 2008-2009
Basic Income Project Not Disclosed 3,000 Monthly $600-$12,000 2019-Present
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Revenue Fund Jackson County and area, NC, U.S. 15,414 Biannually $7,000-$12,000 1996-Present
Eight Pilot Project Busibi, Uganda 150 Monthly $110-$219* 2017-2019
Evaluation of the Citizens’ Basic Income Program Maricá, Brazil 42,000 Monthly $360* 2019-Present
Finland Basic Income Experiment Finland 2,000 Monthly $7,793* 2017-2018
Gary Income Maintenance Experiments Gary, U.S. 1,782 Monthly $3,300-$4,300 1971-1974
Give Directly Western Kenya 20,847 Monthly or Lump Sum $274 2017-2030
Give Directly Saiya County, Kenya 10,500 Lump Sum $333 2014-2017
Give Directly Rarieda District, Kenya 503 Monthly or Lump Sum $405-$1,525 2011-2013
Human Development Fund Mongolia 2,700,000 Monthly $187 2010-2012
Ingreso Mí­nimo Vital Spain 850,000 Monthly $6,535-$14,358* 2020-Present
Iran Cash Transfer Programme Iran 75,000,000 Monthly $48 2010-Present
Madhya Pradesh Unconditional Cash Transfers Project Madhya Pradesh, India 5,547 Monthly $26-$77* 2011-2012
Magnolia Mother’s Trust Jackson, MS, U.S. 80 Monthly $12,000 2019-Present
Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment Winnipeg, Canada 1,677 Monthly $3,842-$5,864* 1975-1978
Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment Dauphin, Canada 586 Monthly $3,842-$5,864* 1975-1978
My Basic Income Germany 120 Monthly $17,160* 2020-2023
New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment Jersey City, U.S. 1,357 Biweekly Varied 1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment Paterson, NJ, U.S. 1,357 Biweekly Varied 1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment Passaic, NJ, U.S. 1,357 Biweekly Varied 1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment Trenton, NJ, U.S. 1,357 Biweekly Varied 1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment Scranton, PA, U.S. 1,357 Biweekly Varied 1968-1972
Ontario Basic Income Pilot Hamilton and area, Canada 2,748 Monthly $13,112-$18,930* (-50% income) 2017-2018
Ontario Basic Income Pilot Thunder Bay and area, Canada 1,908 Monthly $13,112-$18,930* (-50% income) 2017-2018
Ontario Basic Income Pilot Lindsay, Canada 1,844 Monthly $13,112-$18,930* (-50% income) 2017-2018
Preserving Our Diversity Santa Monica, U.S. 250 Monthly $7,836-$8,964 2017-Present
Quatinga Velho Quatinga, Mogi das Cruces, Brazil 67 Monthly $197* 2008-2014
Rural Income Maintenance Experiment Duplin County, NC, U.S. 810 Monthly Varied (NIT) 1970-1972
Rural Income Maintenance Experiment Iowa, U.S. 810 Monthly Varied (NIT) 1970-1972
Scheme $6,000 Hong Kong, China 4,000,000 Annually $771* 2011-2012
Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment Seattle, U.S. 2,042 Monthly $3,800-$5,600 1971-1982
Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment Denver, U.S. 2,758 Monthly $3,800-$5,600 1971-1982
Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration Stockton, U.S. 125 Monthly $6,000 2019-Present
TBD Newark, U.S. TBD Monthly TBD TBD
Transition-Age Youth Basic Income Pilot Program Santa Clara, CA, U.S. 72 Monthly $12,000 2020-2021
Wealth Partaking Scheme Macau, China 700,600 Annually $750-$1,150 2008-Present
Youth Basic Income Program Gyeonggi Province, South Korea 125,000 Quarterly $848* 2018-Present
Citizen’s Basic Income Pilot Scotland TBD Monthly TBD TBD
People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Demonstration Pilot St. Paul, U.S. 150 Monthly $6,000 2020-2022
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Many of the programs meet the classical requirements of UBI. Of the 48 basic income programs tallied above, 75% paid out monthly, and 60% were paid out to individuals.

However, for various reasons, not all of these programs follow UBI requirements. For example, 38% of the basic income programs were paid out to households instead of individuals, and many programs have paid out in lump sums or over varying time frames.

Interestingly, the need for better understanding of basic income has resulted in many divergences between programs. Some programs were only targeted at specific groups like South Korea’s Basic Income for Farmers program, while others like the Baby’s First Years program in the U.S. have been experimenting with different dollar amounts in order to evaluate efficiency.

Other experiments based payments made off of the total income of recipients. For example, in the U.S., the Rural Income and New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiments paid out using a negative income tax (return) on earnings, while recipients of Canada’s Ontario Basic Income Pilot received fixed amounts minus 50% of their earned income.

Varying Programs with Varied Results

So is basic income the real deal or a pipe dream? The results are still unclear.

Some, like the initial pilots for Uganda’s Eight program, were found to result in significant multipliers on economic activity and well-being. Other programs, however, returned mixed results that made further experimentation difficult. Finland’s highly-touted pilot program decreased stress levels of recipients across the board, but didn’t positively impact work activity.

The biggest difficulty has been in keeping programs going and securing funding. Ontario’s three-year projects were prematurely cancelled in 2018 before they could be completed and assessed, and the next stages of Finland’s program are in limbo.

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Likewise in the U.S., start-up incubator Y Combinator has been planning a $60M basic income study program, but can’t proceed until funding is secured.

A Post-COVID Future for UBI?

In light of COVID-19, basic income has once again taken center stage.

Many countries have already implemented payment schemes or boosted unemployment benefits in reaction to the pandemic. Others like Spain have used that momentum to launch fully-fledged basic income pilots.

It’s still too early to tell if UBI will live up to expectations or if the idea will fizzle out, but as new experiments and policy programs take shape, a growing amount of data will become available for policymakers to evaluate.

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