The 1970s experiment with a guaranteed annual income

In 1985, The Journal looks back at Manitoba's 1970s experiment with "Mincome" -- an annual wage for the working poor.

Ontario, federal politicians talked about it but a Manitoba pilot project tried it

In the 1970s, the province tested an annual age for the working poor. What happened? 2:09

The leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party thought it was a good idea 50 years ago.

The Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario agreed a year later.

John Robarts, the Progressive Conservative premier, sees a day when there's not enough work to support all residents of the province and has a possible solution. 1:18

"There may not be productive work for everybody in our society," said Premier John Robarts in 1969, looking to a more efficient future. "I doubt that any of us would take the attitude that if you don't work you don't get paid."

To that end, he said his government's 1969 budget was proposing to examine the idea of an annual guaranteed income very carefully.

More recently, in April 2017, a three-year project in testing the concept began in Ontario. The new Progressive Conservative government announced yesterday it was pulling the plug on the pilot project involving 4,000 people. 

But Manitoba actually put the concept to the test in the 1970s. The program, overseen by an economics professor at the University of Manitoba, was known as "Mincome." Its goal was to determine whether a no-strings annual wage was a help to the working poor, or a deterrent from joining the workforce.

Recipients of Manitoba's experiment in annual guaranteed income offer their views, but the program never drew any conclusions. 2:28

In 1985, CBC Manitoba reporter Ustun Reinart revisited some of the people involved in the Mincome program. Some, like social worker Barbara Daniels, found it beneficial.

"I wasn't stuck in the system," she said. "I'd combine my wages and Mincome and I was able to make ends meet."

A disincentive to work?

But farmer Donald Truch said it was a disincentive to work in his rural region near Sifton, Man.

"It was hard to get help from the guys who were getting Mincome," he recalled.   

Years after the experiment, Dr. Derek Hung said the Manitoba data was still being analyzed. But he said four similar American studies pegged the "work disincentive" at five to 10 per cent.

In 2010, a professor of community health at the University of Manitoba examined data from the town of Dauphin, where 30 per cent of residents took part in the 1974-78 experiment. She compared it with a control group from a similar community. Her conclusion was that the experiment improved the community's overall health

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