Something is happening in the postindustrial pocket of Hamilton, Ontario, a 45-minute drive from Toronto’s gleaming skyscrapers. In its squat downtown, where payday loan services with names like Money Mart and Cash 4 U compete across the street from each other and a beware of dog sign hangs from a church gate, a potentially transformational future is on trial.
Hamilton (population: roughly 500,000 people) was built with steel and smoke, and recent downturns in manufacturing have hit the once-booming steel town hard. A study by the city’s social planning office last year found that in 2014 one in five children there were living in poverty. What’s more, dropping housing prices have made Hamilton something of a destination for would-be Toronto property owners looking for a deal, arguably driving up rental prices in the city even as vacancies increase.
So there was a sense of relief—excitement, even—when the Ontario government announced in mid-2017 that Hamilton had been chosen as one of three cities in the province for a pilot study on the effects of a basic income. A basic income is essentially social support in the form of lump-sum payments with no strings attached, just like income from waged labor minus the work.
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