- Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters
Alaskans like their free cash.
According to a new survey from the Economic Security Project, 81% of residents say that a state-run cash transfer program improves their quality of life.
The program is known as the Permanent Fund Dividend. Every year since 1982, law-abiding Alaskans have received a yearly check – typically ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 – as a kickback from the pot of money that has been set aside in case oil reserves dry up.
As of 2015, the fund’s value was nearly $52 billion.
ESP’s survey marks a win for basic income, a system of wealth distribution in which every citizen receives a modest salary just for being alive. Advocates claim the system is the most straightforward way to solve poverty, since it gives the poor exactly what they lack: cash.
Alaska’s dividend is the closest thing to an ongoing basic income experiment, advocates claim.
“The Permanent Fund Dividend has long stood as a potential model for how other universal basic income programs could work in the United States,” Chris Hughes, cofounder of the ESP, a consortium of basic income advocates launched in December 2016, said in a press statement. “This research should come as encouraging news that unconditional cash can – and should – be a vehicle to create more economic security for all of us.”
The survey is the largest of its kind to be performed on the Permanent Fund Dividend. It included responses from over 1,000 residents. Data showed 72% of people save their dividend for emergencies, and 90% agree the money should go to everyone who is a full-time resident of Alaska.
Currently, the fund is open to everyone who has lived in the state for a full year and hasn’t committed a felony or misdemeanor in the qualifying year.
To counter the claims that extra cash makes people lazy, basic income advocates often cite research that finds incentives to work hold steady or even increase when people get more money. The new survey finds 1% of people said they work less because of the money.
Actual basic income experiments are still small and inconclusive whether the system can work on a large scale. The biggest experiment will take place in Kenya later this year. For 12 years, 6,000 people will receive regular payments totaling roughly $1 a day. Data from earlier trials suggests people may use the money for home repairs and to start businesses.
“We still need more evidence to better inform the debate,” said Mike Kubzansky, a partner at Omidyar Network, one of ESP’s funders, in a statement. “But a lot can be learned from a real-world example of a long-running basic income program such as the Permanent Fund in Alaska.”