A Basic Income Experiment Closer to Home

So there’s actually a case of a basic income of sorts in the United States. The short of it is that there’s a Cherokee tribe that decided to  distribute some of the profits of a casino to all the tribe’s members:

So when, in 1996, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains opened a casino, Jane Costello, an epidemiologist at Duke University Medical School, saw an opportunity. The tribe elected to distribute a proportion of the profits equally among its 8,000 members. Professor Costello wondered whether the extra money would change psychiatric outcomes among poor Cherokee families.

The results were impressive:

When the casino opened, Professor Costello had already been following 1,420 rural children in the area, a quarter of whom were Cherokee, for four years. That gave her a solid baseline measure. Roughly one-fifth of the rural non-Indians in her study lived in poverty, compared with more than half of the Cherokee. By 2001, when casino profits amounted to $6,000 per person yearly, the number of Cherokee living below the poverty line had declined by half.

The poorest children tended to have the greatest risk of psychiatric disorders, including emotional and behavioral problems. But just four years after the supplements began, Professor Costello observed marked improvements among those who moved out of poverty. The frequency of behavioral problems declined by 40 percent, nearly reaching the risk of children who had never been poor. Already well-off Cherokee children, on the other hand, showed no improvement. The supplements seemed to benefit the poorest children most dramatically.

So, add another bit of research that says increasing the incomes of poor people helps in many ways.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t deal with problems of implementation. The tribe got the money for this from a casino. There’s no equivalent income that we can tap into for the entire United States.

It’s also worth it to note that, as far as I can tell, this added to, and didn’t replace, parts of aid the tribe was already getting.

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