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A side-by-side photo of the podcast cover art of GUARANTEED with Eve. L. Ewing next to a headshot of Eve Ewing.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have been studying guaranteed income programs in the region, but there are some results data alone can’t reveal. So, one Chicago-based sociologist spoke with people receiving monthly cash assistance to find out more about the difference it makes in their lives.

Nolis Anderson

A side-by-side photo of the podcast cover art of GUARANTEED with Eve. L. Ewing next to a headshot of Eve Ewing.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have been studying guaranteed income programs in the region, but there are some results data alone can’t reveal. So, one Chicago-based sociologist spoke with people receiving monthly cash assistance to find out more about the difference it makes in their lives.

Nolis Anderson

Direct cash payments are changing lives in Cook County. ‘GUARANTEED’ shows how.

Sociologist Eve Ewing interviewed recipients of a guaranteed income program in Chicago to see what cash makes possible in their lives.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have been studying guaranteed income programs in the region, but there are some results data alone can’t reveal. So, one Chicago-based sociologist spoke with people receiving monthly cash assistance to find out more about the difference it makes in their lives.

Nolis Anderson

   

For many, extra cash each month goes a long way. Exactly how it would impact the lives of Chicago residents was what one local scholar and writer set out to understand in her 7-episode limited podcast series GUARANTEED with Eve L. Ewing.

Reset talks with the podcast host to learn more about what no-strings-attached $500 monthly cash payments are making possible for some Chicago area residents.



The Promise Guaranteed Income Pilotin Cook County is the largest publicly funded program in the nation. For more than a year now, thousands of Cook County residents have been receiving a monthly cash stipend of $500 from the 2-year pilot program which ends in December 2024.

Cash assistance programs can be publicly or privately funded. They’re seen as an innovative way to meet the immediate needs of low income families. But it’s not a cure-all for poverty.

And at least for now, the publicly funded programs in the Chicago area haven’t been made permanent.

Cook County’s program was based on the first guaranteed income program in Stockton, California.

Other area basic income programs include:

Below are a few questions and answers from Reset’s interview with Eve Ewing. They have been edited for clarity and length.

How does guaranteed income differ from other types of social programs?

A lot of the ways in which we provide assistance to folks who are in need in the United States are, as you said, tied to very specific requirements. We say this is a housing voucher, you can use it for housing. This is food assistance, you can use it for food. And a lot of folks have pointed out, as you're saying yourself, that there are a lot of restrictions here that I think people who aren't relying on these programs might not always be familiar with. So, for example, if you're used to running late on dinner, you go into the grocery store. You see that rotisserie chicken and you can grab that. It's maybe going to feed the family that night. If you're thrifty, you might save the carcass and make some chicken stock or serve it the next day.

Those kinds of things that are pre-prepared food are not included under Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs. And so I think a lot of people that are not relying on these programs are not aware of some of the hoops and limitations that folks have to jump through. But that being said, these guaranteed income programs are by no means intended as a replacement for those programs, but rather a leg up for people who can use it and something that provides them a little bit more flexibility.

Does meeting people’s basic needs make our communities safer?

All of us in the last few years have been having expanded conversations about what safety means. What are the things that make us feel safe? What are the things that make us feel unsafe? And I think just speaking for myself and for many folks that I know and that I'm in community with, that isn't just about knowing that if I call 911 the police are going to show up with guns blazing. I often find myself wishing that I could call people about things without worrying that somebody's going to show up with guns blazing, right? I'm like, man, I'm just trying to sleep in. My neighbors are really loud, but is my only option to either not sleep or to call someone who's going to show up with a firearm? Is there something in between that we can have here?

And so, I think for many people, our notions of safety have to include things like knowing that our schools are going to be there for our kids, that our teachers are going to be there for our kids, that we have mental health resources and access to mental health resources, that we can ride public transit and feel safe. Some of those are things that require continued public investment, but some of those are things that are amplified by our interpersonal relationships with one another. I do believe that when a young person has access to mental health care or has a strong mentor in their life or knows that their school is a caring place, that they're less likely to go out and commit violent crime, right? I do believe that. I do believe that when folks that are returning from being incarcerated have other opportunities to earn income, that they're not going to do things that increase violent crime. I believe that as well.

I remember a story one of my neighbors was telling me. She was robbed as she was walking down the street and somebody took her purse. And as he was running away he yelled back at her. He said, “I don't want to be doing this. I'm really sorry.” And she was still mad and upset, although she was grateful to be safe. But, you know, I think that as we get to the holiday season and throughout the year, there are many people that are in these positions and that would rather be doing other things. And so to me, I think on this point, I very much agree with President Preckwinkle that we have to expand our notion of not only what safety is, but how we can get there.



As a sociologist, why do you think agency and dignity are so important?

I really appreciate that framing. And I think that these are not things that are earned. These are things that all of us deserve. And this notion of deserving. This is another big theme that we explore on the podcast. I think people have the idea that you only deserve this or you only deserve that if you are born into a certain economic stratum, born in a certain neighborhood. And what does it look like for us to say all kids deserve great schools? All people deserve safe and standard housing? All people deserve to wake up and feel safe in the morning? And I think that's really where agency and dignity meet, right? In this question of deservingness. And the thing is, there's just no material reason why these things should not be the case.

We live in an incredibly affluent society. And so it is by policy choice not by inherent scarcity that we live in a world where everybody doesn't have these things. And so how do we reconfigure not only the resources that we have available, but also our own thinking and our own assumptions in order to provide for everybody and to make sure that the whole city, the whole county, the whole country can thrive? And I think, as you put it, agency and dignity are really at the core of that.

How should we be thinking about equity, impact and who deserves access to cash assistance?

We live in an ecosystem. If my neighbors aren't eating well, if the kids in my neighborhood aren't feeling good and going to school, if folks can't get jobs... Those things do come back to us in ways that have become, I think, really obvious in Chicago in the last few years. When your neighbor is suffering, it's going to come home to you. And so I want people to understand that. And then I think more broadly, something I'm really proud about in the way we told these stories is really centering the lives of the people who are most affected in ways that I hope and feel that they felt good about, that I feel good about. And I think that for those of us that are kind of wonky policy nerds or that are into thinking about these type of social issues, I hope people realize that this is a different way of telling stories that isn't just about statistics, numbers and some of those deficits talking. There's a lot of joy here. There's a lot of laughter here. And people are very complicated, three dimensional folks. And that's why we all deserve that agency and that dignity.

Was there ever a time when direct cash assistance would’ve made a difference in your life?

I grew up in Chicago where I could say we probably lived in five or six different apartments. You know, the idea of renting becoming unaffordable… I grew up in Logan Square before it was the Logan Square that it is now. And so living in a gentrifying community and being priced out. And I was raised by a single mom who is an amazing, amazing person. But I know that those things were stressful for her. So that's one thing.

And also there were times when we faced medical crises in our family, layoffs. Things like that when just putting those kinds of basic food and necessities on the table would have been really helpful. And then again as a student I often really struggled to just meet my basic needs. I've been really happy to see now as a professor some of the ways in which there are a lot of programs in place to help students do basic things that were very hard for me to do. Like buy books, but also buy food and have stable housing.

I was a public school teacher and my first year as a Chicago public school teacher, like many folks, I was paying a lot out of pocket to try to pay my rent, but also get basic school supplies for my students. And so yeah basically every chapter of my early life this would have been helpful. And I think also about families and the ways that I've provided assistance for my family. Maybe I would have saved that money if members of my family had other income coming in, right? These are not individualized things. And so yeah, the list is long. But that's a start.

Click the audio player to hear the full interview with Eve Ewing.

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