Researchers examine 'town without poverty'

Last Updated: Monday, December 5, 2005 | 3:34 PM CT

Economics researchers at the University of Manitoba are re-examining a little-known experiment in guaranteed income that look place in Dauphin, Man. in the 1970s.

Under the guaranteed annual income program, every resident of Dauphin was ensured a minimum income ranging from about $11,000 to $17,000 in today's dollars, depending on family size.

The program, funded by the provincial and federal governments, was run by a group of academics at the University of Winnipeg. Although the program was well publicized in the city of Dauphin, the test site was only known by the code name "River City" to people outside the community.

"There was a certain amount of fear in the 1970s that very generous social programs might encourage people not to work. Researchers found that that was not, in fact, the case," economics professor Evelyn Forget told CBC News.

"The only people who tended not to work quite so hard were students in high school. In fact, one of the things we expect to find is that adolescents stayed in high school a little longer and graduated. We expect to find traces of that difference even now."

Experiment died as political support waned

Dauphin was chosen to be the Canadian test community because it had a small enough population – around 10,000 – to make it an affordable testing site, but a large enough population to allow for a mix of income levels. It was also isolated from the influences of larger cities.

The guaranteed-income program began in 1974, and ran until 1978.

"In 1974, when the experiment began, I think there was widespread belief this was going to be implemented across the country," said Forget. "By about 1977, the federal government recognized it was very politically difficult to do that, and once they recognized they didn't have political support, they stopped funding the project."

Forget and other researchers want to get in touch with participants in the program to find out how their lives were changed – if at all – and in particular how the income and health of participants might have been affected by the program at the time, and in the years since the program ended.

Forget expects to publish the results of the new research, titled "Town With No Poverty" – but even if her study shows the program had a positive effect on Dauphin residents' lives, she's not sure a guaranteed annual income program will reappear on the federal agenda.

"It's the kind of program that keeps coming back. It has a number of supporters, and people keep suggesting it," she said, but added, "I think we have a much more rational social assistance program now than we did in the 1970s. Whether we would ever have a uniform guaranteed annual income, I don't know."

People who lived in Dauphin while the study was taking place, between 1974 and 1978, can reach Evelyn Forget at (204) 789-3772.


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