Basic Income Research Proposal

For the past year, we’ve been putting together the best possible research plan to study the effects of a basic income in the US. Today, we’re excited to share updates on our progress and the proposed design for a larger-scale study.

First, we just wrapped up a one-year feasibility study in Oakland. We conducted the feasibility study to learn what challenges we would face when seeking to conduct a large, high quality study. We also sought to get a glimpse of the effects of basic income, even though the feasibility study was too small to reveal any trends or predict outcomes with any statistical significance.

Second, we’ve established partnerships with a number of individuals and organizations to help advance the project. We brought on leading researchers to be co-investigators and a growing team of experts to serve as advisors. We’ve partnered with the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality and received approval from Stanford’s Institutional Review Board, a panel responsible for the protection of human participants in research.

Third, after considering many potential designs, we decided that the core of the Basic Income Project will be a large-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT). You can read more about the details of our proposed study and our research questions here.

A randomized trial is considered one of the best ways to evaluate the impact of a proposed social policy. By comparing a group of people who receive a basic income to an otherwise identical group of people who do not, we can isolate and quantify the effects of a basic income.

Of course, no single study can answer all questions about basic income, and every program has an array of positive and negative effects. Nonetheless, we view this experiment as a strong foundation for a broad research agenda on basic income.

We tentatively plan to randomly select 3,000 individuals across two US states to participate in the study: 1,000 will receive $1,000 per month for up to 5 years, and 2,000 will receive $50 per month and serve as a control group for comparison.

We are working with government agencies to access administrative data for consenting individuals. We’ll also conduct extensive surveys with participants at the start and end of the project.

Analyzing data on individuals’ time use and finances, indicators of mental and physical health, and effects on children and social networks will help us learn how this basic level of income security helps people cope—and possibly thrive—amid economic volatility and uncertainty.

We also plan to conduct qualitative research with a subsample of participants. Through in-depth interviews, we will gain a comprehensive understanding of how a basic income influences people’s lives. Documenting individuals’ experiences, decision-making processes, and the constraints they face will help us create solutions, even apart from basic income, that may be more effective.

At the study’s conclusion, we hope to answer our fundamental questions about basic income, advancing the debate about social spending and the future of work.

Our next steps are to continue soliciting feedback on our proposed research design and to scale up the second phase of the feasibility study. We’ll adjust the design based on the feedback and feasibility study before launching the large-scale RCT.

We’ll also continue to work with state and local governments and social service agencies to ensure that the basic income payments do not affect participants’ existing benefits.

We look forward to sharing more news about our progress in the coming months.