Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang selected New Hampshire voter Jodie Fassi to trial his signature “Freedom Dividend” policy. Yang is personally giving Fassi and her family $1,000 per month in 2019 for free with no strings attached.
Freedom Dividend given to New Hampshire family
An advocate of Universal Basic Income, Yang thinks every American aged 18-65 should start getting a monthly check just for being a human being. This would, he argues, combat the rising tide of workforce automation and the resulting job destruction he expects.
To trial his idea, Yang announced his intention to give away $1,000 per month for a year to a New Hampshire resident in a statement released in April. Anyone interested was invited to apply via his campaign website.
Jodie Fassi was selected to be the first recipient of the Freedom Dividend after being nominated by her daughter Janelle. In reality, though, all three members of the Fassi family are effectively taking part in the trail.
“We ended up meeting the whole family, since Janelle filled out the nomination form, and their family story is so relatable,” Yang told CNBC. “They are a perfect example of how $1,000 freedom dividend would help families across the country, and the entire family has gotten behind the concept and has agreed to share their experiences.”
Jodie’s husband Charles lost his job with a chemical dispensing equipment servicing company two years ago.
“I was just suddenly let go,” he told New Hampshire Public Radio. “And it felt like it was connected between automation and companies kind of putting less value on human capital.”
Jodie explained the immediate crisis the job loss created for the family, especially for daughter Janelle.
“He lost his job August 11th and she was starting college that week, we had to set up her dorm,” Jodie explained. “I actually had this house on the market. I had his car sold. [I went into this] protective mode of okay, well, what do I need to do to keep her in college.”
After learning about Yang’s Freedom Dividend plan, Janelle nominated her mother to be a pilot recipient. When they found out they had been selected, the family was stunned.
Speaking of Charles’ reaction Jodie said, “He actually ended up crying because he felt like we didn’t deserve it.”
How Universal Basic Income can transform lives
In his 2017 book, The War on Normal People, Yang outlined his argument that automation and artificial intelligence, although beneficial in many ways, were in the process of destroying a third of all American jobs.
“This is no longer speculative – it is already happening,” he explained. “Our labor participation rate is currently at 62.7%, about the same rate as El Salvador and a multi-decade low. 1 out of 5 prime-working-age Americans is out of the workforce and social ills like drug use and suicide are surging.”
The solution, according to Yang, is widely known as Universal Basic Income. Rebranded as the “Freedom Dividend” for his campaign, he hopes as president to give every American of working age a monthly $1,000 check with no conditions attached.
The $1,000 Freedom Dividend is not meant to replace normal working salaries, but augment them and ease the strain caused by economic ups and downs. Yang argues that this extra money each month would transform American society.
“Right now, 57% of Americans can’t afford an unexpected $500 bill,” he said at a recent campaign event.
“What happens when you put $1,000 a month into their hands? Where does that money go? They’re going to spend it – in their local community.”
Yang also says that, rather than disincentivize work, a Freedom Dividend will actually spur creativity, growth, and jobs.
“Universal Basic Income will cause a revolution in people doing work that they care more about, and it will be the greatest channel into entrepreneurship and the arts that we have ever seen,” he said in a September interview with Nick Thompson.
Who is Andrew Yang?
Yang was one of the first Democratic candidates to declare when he launched his “Humanity First” presidential bid in November 2017.
Before turning to politics, Yang worked as a successful entrepreneur in the medical and test-preparation sectors.
He later founded Venture for America (VFA), a non-profit company which offers fellowships to top college graduates who want to found startups around the country. Started in 2011, by the time Yang stepped down as CEO in 2017 VFA fellows had founded 29 companies and created 2,500 jobs.
“VFA created jobs by the thousands and continues to do amazing work across the country,” Yang explains on his campaign website, “But along the way, it became clear to me that job creation will not outpace the massive impending job loss due to automation. Those days are simply over.”
Whether or not Yang’s proposed Freedom Dividend is a workable solution is still to be determined, but at least one more family is likely to have their lives transformed by Yang’s ideas.
A second Freedom Dividend recipient will be announced soon, this time for a voter from Iowa. Interested Iowans can apply online.