Mayor Ras Baraka Favors Universal Income for Newark Residents

New Jersey’s largest city could become the first in the nation to adopt a secured income to reduce poverty levels. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka seeks to establish a task force to evaluate if such a program could improve the lives of residents in need.

“The problems we have belong to all of us, not just a few of us, so the solutions must be collective and not individual,” Baraka said during his State of the City address last week. “We believe in universal basic income, especially in a time where studies have shown that families that have a crisis of just $400 in a month may experience a setback that may be difficult, even impossible, to recover from.”

Though he didn’t provide specific details, Baraka’s proposal would ensure all residents — regardless of employment — a guaranteed income, The Star-Ledger reported. Numbers from the 2011 Census Bureau showed that more than 79,000 people lived in poverty in Newark, meaning that one in three were living in precarious conditions.

Communities of color were the hardest hit: more than 43,000 African Americans were deemed poor, according to 2010 records, compared to approximately 13,600 whites living in Newark. Between 2013 and 2017, the median household income was $34,826 — the national average was $53,482 per year — and the average income for a resident in Newark was $16,828 per year, compared to $28,555 a US resident earns on average.

High poverty was correlated with unemployment at the time, particularly around the 2010 recession. With respect to job creation, the mayor addressed Newark’s chances of securing Amazon’s 50,000-job deal, saying that “It’s a privileged position to say we reject jobs ... when our people are unemployed, we have no right to walk away from a deal like that.” He addressed Amazon’s decision not to pick Newark as its second headquarters in February, arguing that the giant’s jobs should not come at the expense of his community.

During the State of the City speech, he urged residents, business and community leaders to “build a better Newark,” adding that it’s not enough to yell at board meetings or “fight on the sidelines,” the publication added. “We don’t build the city for position. We don’t build the city for an opportunity to advance to another political career. We don’t build this city simply because we want to put ourselves on our pedestal. We build this city because we have a mind to,” Baraka said.

Progressive leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have supported the idea of helping working-class Americans, New York Post reported. However, conservatives have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of universal basic income. “Everybody who has tried these programs basically looks at them and says even if we like the idea this is too expensive, it doesn’t work and the evidence just isn’t there,” Reason.com Managing Editor Peter Suderman told Fox Business Network on Tuesday. “Typically, they talk about paying people about $1,000 a month, $10-$15 thousand dollars a year …. If we just did that, that might be a better program than the mess of programs that we have right now, but that is not what anyone is talking about doing,” he said.

For others, universal basic income should not be regarded as a “utopian pipe dream” as Vox reported, but it should be more specific in terms of who’s getting the money, “how much, or how we’d pay for it. If we want to fix our welfare system, that has to change.”


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.