Chicago just launched one of the largest guaranteed-income programs in the country. But how long have Americans been pushing for government-backed income as a solution to entrenched poverty and inequality?
The push to solve economic inequality and widespread poverty through a government-backed minimum level of income is nearly a century old, starting after the Great Depression. In the 1930s, populist Louisiana senator Huey Long, who blamed capitalism for the country’s poverty at the time, proposed giving every American a minimum income of $2,000. However, Long was assassinated in 1935 and his plan never came to fruition.
That same year, a physician and political advocate in Long Beach, California, named Francis Everett Townsend wanted the federal government to establish a guaranteed income program of $200 a month for retired citizens aged 60 or older. The program garnered popular support, and 8,000 “Townsend clubs” across the country lobbied for his program. While President Franklin D. Roosevelt ultimately dismissed Townsend’s pension plan and Congress rejected it in 1939, Townsend’s ideas influenced the Social Security Act adopted as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
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