When Gail Goodwin started receiving $500 a month through a guaranteed income program, for the first time in a long time, she was able to give money to her grandchildren.
“Like the old me,” Goodwin said. “When I had a well-paying job.”
Goodwin, 57, works full-time at a private security firm in Chicago that pays $16 an hour, and it’s been a struggle to make ends meet. Renting him on Chicago’s Southwest Side eats up over 40% of his budget.
In Chicago, Goodwin is among thousands of locals taking part in experiments to see the results of providing people with a guaranteed income. She is among 5,000 Chicago residents over the past four months who received $500 a month as part of a year-long program known as the Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot.
Some Chicago residents will also be part of the Cook County Income Guaranteed Pilot Project, which recently selected the 3,250 participants via lottery who will receive $500 for two years. Participants should receive their first monthly payment by mid-December.
Both pilot projects, which are separate, are funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, and academic researchers are monitoring the programs closely. The pilots included income requirements to try and target low-income families, and participants were chosen through sweepstakes.
Demographic data on county participants was not yet available. Participants were in the enrollment phase and should have received their first monthly benefit in December.
In the city’s pilot project, the majority of participants — 71 percent — identify as female, according to city data. About 68% are Black, nearly 24% are Latino or Hispanic, and about 16% are White. An additional 3% of participants identify as Asian.
The city’s 5,000 attendees — the city’s Department of Family and Support Services has contracted with GiveDirectly to administer the program — are scattered throughout Chicago. The 60620 ZIP code, which includes Auburn Gresham, has 240 attendees, the most concentrated in one area, according to city data. The 60619 zip code, which includes parts of Chatham and the South Shore, has 235 participants.
While it may be too soon to tell what the long-term implications will be for those receiving the city’s monthly benefit, two people the Chicago Sun-Times spoke to described feeling a sense of relief from financial stress as they use the monthly subsidy to help pay rent, utilities and groceries. Another person shortlisted for the county pilot described feeling confident about receiving the $500.
One person interviewed by the Sun-Times coordinated through Economic Security for Illinois, which has supported income-guaranteed programs and is providing funds to people who share their stories with news outlets about their participation in the pilot.
“He just knocked me out of the water,” Goodwin said of the pilot. “…I’m thinking about the future, like, when I’m back to normal. What will happen when the program stops?”
‘I have nothing’
In the late 1940s, a bad harvest in Mexico turned Felix’s life upside down and forced him to move to Chicago, where one of his sons had already settled. Soon his wife joined him.
In Chicago, Felix, 71, worked in factories for more than twenty years without the possibility of retiring. But earlier this year he stopped working because his wife needed round-the-clock care that his daughter-in-law could no longer provide. Felix requested that only his name be used in this story.
“Grab the guardrail,” Felix says in Spanish to his wife. Slowly, he walks down the steps using a stick as they prepare to take a short walk around Pilsen.
Their walks have become part of their daily routine as Felix follows his wife to make sure she doesn’t fall. Doctors had told the family she would be unable to walk after suffering a stroke in January 2021 shortly after contracting COVID-19.
After quitting their jobs, the couple relied on their savings and children to cover expenses such as rent and medicines.
“Frankly, I have nothing,” Felix said of his savings. “If anything happens, my kids are the ones to support me.”
The city pilot’s $500 monthly allowance helped contribute to his $600 in rent and utility bills. While his son and daughter-in-law provide larger meals such as dinner, Felix usually goes to a nearby grocery store to buy fruit like papayas, some toiletries, and meal replacement shakes for his wife which he has to take twice a day. The smoothies have sometimes cost the family $70 a box.
“I’m happy they’re helping me,” she said in Spanish.
But the future remains uncertain. Felix thinks he’ll probably have to get a job somehow once the guaranteed income program ends.
“We have no choice but to suffer again,” she said.
‘A Great Battle’
Goodwin sees her life story reflected in the character of Jennifer Lopez in the film “Second Act,” in which the longtime saleswoman knows the ins and outs of the business but has no formal college education.
Goodwin, 57, spent about 37 years working at a day care center in Wicker Park doing everything from bookkeeping to communicating with families. But she’s found it hard to find that kind of work again since the daycare closed in 2017, bouncing between jobs before landing a gig as a security guard that’s a more physically demanding job.
“Doing security takes up all of your time,” he said. “I’m not a young spring chicken anymore, so I get tired. After you’ve done security, patrolling, dealing with kids – it can get very busy.
She had financial help from her children who lived with her, but they all moved away. Goodwin is reluctant to move with a daughter because it would mean leaving Chicago and she doesn’t drive. He also wants to have his place in case his children or grandchildren fall on hard times. At the end of October, a nephew was temporarily staying with Goodwin.
She is considering downsizing her housing as she uses the $500 monthly allowance to pay a portion of the rent and for everyday essentials. She also hopes to save enough to buy life insurance. Goodwin said she knows the financial toll the death can take on families.
“Take the burden off my kids if anything happens to me,” Goodwin said. “It’s nothing to make money from; it’s just to help them because it’s a big fight. I’ve been there four times with my brothers.
“I’m used to fighting”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Jailyn Brown, 23, juggled virtual college classes and caring for her grandmother while also working night shifts.
Even with a job, he struggled to buy books and didn’t always have a reliable internet connection.
“It was a lot and I just couldn’t keep up with it all,” she said.
Her grades slipped, and even though she had about 18 months left to graduate, she had to take time off from pursuing a career in public relations. Then, in July, Brown’s grandmother died at 67.
“I’m used to struggling until I get to a point where I’m not hurting, but I’m OK to keep going,” said Brown.
Brown, along with hundreds of others, is expected to receive his first $500 monthly benefit in mid-December as part of Cook County’s two-year Guaranteed Income Program.
She wants to save up for an apartment because she’s been bouncing around relatives’ houses in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
And while working in a shop, she makes $15 an hour and is usually scheduled for 15 hours a week. He wants to start a candle making business so he can start generating extra income while figuring out what to get through college.
Brown wishes his grandmother was still alive, imagining her jumping off her chair to hear about her participation in the pilot.
“I was definitely in deep financial trouble with my part-time job not really having the hours to help support me,” Brown said. “This was definitely a blessing in disguise.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.