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Five decades after MLK championed guaranteed income, initiative launches for Black women in Georgia

According to recent research by the Old Fourth Ward Economic Security Task Force, Black residents in Atlanta are over four times as likely to be living under the federal poverty line than their white neighbors, with 46% of Black households earning below $25,000 a year. Some 38% of Black women and 26% of Black men in the city are living in poverty, compared to 8% of white women and 5% of white men in the same city

The $13 million In Her Hands flagship program is powered by a partnership with the GRO Fund and GiveDirectily—one of the largest guaranteed income programs in the South, a region where Black women face significant structural barriers to economic security and wealth.

The initiative is still in the early stages of inviting and selecting participants, but the first round of payments is set to start with the first cohort of 25 recipients.

“It’ll take a multifaceted approach—and probably many different policies—to even begin to address Hope Wollensack, the executive director of the Georgia Resilience & Opportunity Fund tells ABC News. “But we do know that stabilizing one’s income can be a powerful tool, not only to improve one’s material circumstances in the short term and to improve quality of life and opportunities, but also to enable individuals across the board to plan for the long term,” Wollensack says. 

Guaranteed income has become a prominent piece of the puzzle in the U.S. as an effective tool in fighting poverty. 

According to research from Columbia University Center on Poverty & Social Policy, even a modest Income guarantee of $250 a month for adults and children can reduce poverty by 40%. 

King himself historically advocated for guaranteed income over five decades ago. 

“Those at the lowest economic level, the poor white and Negro, the aged and chronically ill, are traditionally unorganized and therefore have little ability to force the necessary growth in their income. They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to the larger society,” the civil-rights leader wrote in his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

“The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create income,” King added in the 1967 book. “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

After Stockton, California, became the first major U.S. city to launch a guaranteed income initiative in 2019—giving 125 people who made under $46,000 a year each $500 a month—a study found that full-time employment increased and participants’ physical, financial, and mental health improved. 

Autumn McDonald, a senior fellow and head of New America CA (a branch of New America, a national think-tank that studies economic inequality), told Market Watch that she believes stimulus checks have been the breakthrough for the policy of guaranteed income payouts. 

“There’s been some shift in this idea that systems actually might be broken,” McDonald says. 

Natalie Foster, co-chair of the Economic Security Project told Market Watch she thinks a lot about what would have happened if the nation had followed King’s vision of guaranteed income for those who needed it. She says she believes that King would be “very saddened by the lack of progress that’s been made on widespread economic dignity in America, and the widening of the racial wealth gap.”

“We are now understanding that the last 50 years of capitalism did not work for most people,” she adds.

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King family calls for protests on MLK Day weekend to push for passage of voting rights bills

“We are coming together at symbolic bridges. We’re hoping that it will be replicated across the country to really bring home the point of the symbolism of bridges in the Black community,” King...