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Basic income experiment started by Y Combinator delayed until 2019



Sam Altman Y CombinatorGetty

  • Y Combinator’s plan to provide basic income to a group
    of people for five years has been delayed after a pilot program
    took longer than expected.
  • Now, Y Combinator hopes to start its study by mid-2019,
    and it has partnered with the University of Michigan to oversee
    the process. 
  • 1,000 participants will receive $1,000 a month while
    the rest will be part of a control group. 
  • Participants will receive the monthly payments for
    either three or five years.

In 2016, Y Combinator — the
largest startup accelerator in Silicon Valley —


that it
would lead an ambitious
of basic income. President Sam

hoped to
provide money to participants for five years after an initial
pilot study. 

But the pilot program in Oakland,
California, has taken a lot longer than anticipated, and YC
Research — Y Combinator’s nonprofit research lab — delayed the
start of the larger study until next year,



“Although it’s frustrating for
funders, it has been good from a research standpoint,” Elizabeth
Rhodes, the study’s research director, wrote in an email to
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, according to Wired.

 is a system in which everyone
receives money (often from the government) on a regular basis
regardless of income. Altman wrote in a blog
at the time that providing people with basic income can
promote equality of opportunity and help eliminate

The Oakland pilot was delayed because Y Combinator needed
to make sure participants did not lose any benefits they
were already receiving in California, among other reasons.

Y Combinator’s pilot also did not reach the intended number of
people. Altman
initially laid out plans
for giving $1,500 a month to 100
families. As of now, however, fewer than 30 people have enrolled.
While six people got $1,500 per month in a feasibility study,
pilot participants currently receive only $50 each month. 

The long-term study, which is
expected to begin by mid-2019, will include 3,000 participants
from two states. Earlier this year, Y Combinator signed a
contract with the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center
to help oversee the study, according to Wired. The locations have
not yet been determined, though Oakland will not be part of the

One-third of the participants
will receive $1,000 a month while the rest will get $50 a month
as part of a control group. Participants will receive the monthly
payments for either three or five years.

Michigan’s Survey Research Center
will also gather information for a different basic income
program, which will give an unconditional $333 a month to 500
low-income mothers. Another 500 new mothers will get $20 a month,
and all the participants will be selected from hospitals in four

Basic income experiments have
been growing in popularity around the world as more people
express concerns over an increase in automation leading to job

Beyond Altman, several tech
executives in Silicon Valley have voiced support for basic
income, including Mark Zuckerberg, who


for the system during a Harvard commencement
speech last year. 

Critics, meanwhile,
basic income programs could create a society without
motivation and cause recipients to stop working.

Some of the most prominent basic
income experiments have been short-lived. In
 that a two-year pilot program
giving basic income to 2,000 people will end in January
2019. Finland’s program will run for the intended two
years, but the government denied a request for additional funding
from the country’s social security agency.

And in Ontario, Canada, the provincial
government ended a
three-year pilot two years early. About 4,000 people were
receiving a monthly basic income, and many
recipients said
they were shocked
 after Premier Doug Ford
broke his promise to continue the program.

A pilot in Stockton, California,
has made more progress, with

plans to kick off an 18-month trial
in February 2019. The
program will
 100 residents with $500 per month. 

According to Wired, Y Combinator won’t begin its study until it
secures enough funding. The incubator is reaching out to national
foundations and local philanthropists to fund the estimated $60
million cost. The majority of the money is expected to go toward
monthly payments to recipients. 

The cash will be given unconditionally, and Rhodes told Wired
that relying on private funding will allow Y Combinator to
maintain a separation from political influence. 

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