Though the last months of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life were spent organizing for the Poor People’s March on Washington, a movement meant to unite America’s economically disenfranchised of all races, few MLK Day events focus on the solution King supported to address poverty — the guaranteed income.

Dr. King believed economic inequality led to housing discrimination, educational inequalities, employment issues and other challenges Blacks faced. Thus, he pushed for a guaranteed income as a way to address them all.

The Defender asked Houston-area residents if they thought the concept would work today. Here’s what they said:

ON MLK’S GUARANTEED INCOME

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Economic Equity plan is spot on. He was ahead of his time and misunderstood by many. His concept of a guaranteed income also came with an education of what the income could and should be used for. As a financial educator of young adults, I often share with parents that we can’t expect our young adults to do better without seeing and experiencing better habits early on. Dr. King’s plan was to make a crooked path straight and put us on the same self-growth path experienced by all of our counterparts. (Teeba Rose, financial educator)

I think it’s a plan that will work. First and foremost, it will pull people out of poverty, just like the child tax credit did during COVID. It will help to somewhat start to close the wealth gap. But on a larger scale, if you’re giving people money, then they have more money to pump into the economy. (Adrianne Walker, accountant)

The guaranteed income idea has merit. When children come into this world, they don’t have any control over what conditions they’re born into. I think if you are able to have some type of floor where there’s a guaranteed income, and we saw this for a short time again during the pandemic to help these families, this will go over into the schools, school funding and all these things should be part and parcel of a discussion of helping people come out of generations of poverty. I define the proper role of government as one designed to help the people who cannot help themselves. And not to help the people who are always on top, because the gap will widen in a capitalist society. (Dr. Michael O. Adams, TSU professor)

WHO WOULD BE FOR/AGAINST IT TODAY

I believe Democrats, African Americans, reparations groups and advocacy organizations would support this plan. These groups understand that the desire to do better is there, and with the right financial education and support, we can and will fix our problems. The parties that would vote against this plan are the conservatives who believe you should pull yourself up by your bootstraps, not realizing that boots are required for that to happen. (Teeba Rose)

Some people would call it socialism, but I think it’s because people don’t understand the way our country works. Our roads, our libraries, all of that is funded by citizens’ money. It’s socialism, but people don’t call it that because it helps them. When they want to bring up the word “socialism” it’s because they’re protesting giving something to a certain group of people. Conservatives are going to fight MLK’s idea tooth and nail because they don’t want to pass anything that’s going to benefit Black people, even if it’s going to benefit them too. (Adrianne Walker)

The mayors of Stockton, CA and St. Paul, MN, both Black men, initiated guaranteed incomes. In Stockton, their experimental program took 125 or 150 families and said, we’re going to give them $500/month guaranteed, for, I think, 18 months. Then, that was expanded to say, “We would not only cover economic necessities, things to survive, we are going to give you a $12,000 payment if you want to go to college.” That’s kind of radical. But if we look at what MLK was preaching about, he knew that if you are poor, you’re not going to have access to quality education. (Dr. Michael O. Adams)

DN: See what Mayor Sylvester Turner and other leaders think about keeping MLK’s economic equity focus alive