On a December afternoon, Frances Amy Richardson took a break from her quilting class to reflect on a groundbreaking experiment she took part in 40 years earlier.
“Well, that was quite a few years ago,” she said. “There was a lot of people that really benefitted from it.”
Between 1974 and 1979, residents of a small Manitoba city were selected to be subjects in a project that ensured basic annual incomes for everyone. For five years, monthly cheques were delivered to the poorest residents of Dauphin, Man. – no strings attached.
And for five years, poverty was completely eliminated.
The program was dubbed “Mincome” – a neologism of “minimum income” – and it was the first of its kind in North America. It stood out from similar American projects at the time because it didn’t shut out seniors and the disabled from qualification.
The project’s original intent was to evaluate if giving cheques to the working poor, enough to top-up their incomes to a living wage, would kill people’s motivation to work. It didn’t.
“Children learn as much by example as by instruction, and if mom is seen as in a weaker financial position than dad without any explanation, it will be hard to convince them that this isn’t the natural order of things.”